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With the Compliments of 




General Education in a Free Society 


PAUL H. BUCK, Chairman, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and 
Professor of Hibtory. 

JOHN II. FINLEY, JR., Vice-Cbairnian, Eliot Professor of Greek and /Master 
of Eliot House. 

RAPHAEL DEMOS, Professor of Philosophy and Chairman of the Board of 
Tutors in the Department of Philosophy. 

LEIGH HOADLFY, Professor of Zoology, Master of Lcvcrett House, and 
Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. 

BYRON S. HOLLINSHFAD, Research Fellow in Education, President of 
Scranton Keystone Junior College, and Past President of the American As- 
sociation of Junior Colleges. 

WILBUR K. JORDAN, President of Radcliffe College and member of the 
Department of History. 

IVOR A. RICHARDS, University Professor and Director of the Commission 
on English Language Studies. 

PHILLIP J. RULON, Professor of Education and Acting Dean of the Gradu- 
ate School of Education. 

ARTHUR M. SCHLFSINGFR, Fiancis Lee Higginson Professor of History 
and former President of the American Historical Association. 

ROBERT ULICH, Professor of Education and former Minister of Education 
in Saxony, Germany. 

GEORGE WALD, Associate Professor of Biology and recipient of the Eli 
Lilly Award of the American Chemical Society in 1939. 

BENJAMIN F. WRIGHT, Professor of Government and Chairman of the 
Department of Government. 


Report of the 
Harvard Committee 



iff it 



Copyright, 7^5, by the President and Fellows 
of Harvard College 

Thirteenth Printing 

Printed at the Harvard University Printing Office 
at Cambridge, Massachusetts, U. S. A. 


The war has precipitated a veritable downpour of books and 
articles dealing with education. In particular the future of the 
liberal arts colleges has been a subject of widespread discussion 
both within and without the academic walls. There is hardly a 
university or college in the country which has not had a com- 
mittee at work in these war years considering basic educational 
questions and making plans for drastic revamping of one or more 
curricula. Nor have larger group activities been missing. The 
Association of American Colleges has not only sponsored the 
publication of a book on the liberal arts but tyas also arranged 
important conferences dealing with various ghases of college 
education. With this background in mind, the Dreader may won- 
der why the report of one more university committee should be 
presented to the public in book form. He may well ask, what 
merit, if any, resides in this particular treatment of a familiar 
subject collegiate education? 

The answer lies in the fact that, in spite of its origins, the book 
is not primarily concerned with collegiate education. Rather, it 
is an inquiry into the problems of general education in both 
school and college by a Committee largely composed of mem- 
bers of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, in short, men of dis- 
tinction in special fields of learning. In other words, the report 
of the Harvard Committee on "The Objectives of a General 
Education in a Free Society," which is printed here in full, pre- 
sents a view of the total American educational scene. The recom- 
mendations as to changes in the Harvard College curriculum 
(which in due course will be debated by the Faculty) were 
arrived at only after the Committee had spent months examining 
the entire problem of providing adequate education for all 
American youth. Therefore, in one sense this is a report of 
experts, in another sense a report of an impartial jury of laymen 
determined to find the facts. 

That a group of men whose lives had hitherto been devoted 



to university affairs should take great pains and spend much time 
investigating the current educational situation in the United 
States is, I believe, without precedent. That they were joined in 
the enterprise by colleagues from the Faculty of Education who 
knew the schools from long experience makes the case no less 
exceptional. The first four chapters of this book are, therefore, 
the product of a study unique in the history of American edu- 

A further unusual if not unique feature of the report is evi- 
dent if one considers that the document represents a unanimity 
of opinion not based on compromise between divergent views. 
And when one adds the comment that the Committee was ap- 
pointed from both the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the 
Faculty of Education, such unanimity is recognized as not only 
exceptional but of high significance. To one who has listened 
for years with considerable dismay to the "educators and school 
men" belaboring the "professors" and vice versa, this unanimity 
seems like the dawn of a welcome day. The writer of the fore- 
word is obviously a biased witness, but to him the first four 
chapters are a heartening sign that college professors and school 
teachers and administrators can come to understand each other's 
difficulties if they will put their minds upon the task. For I think 
the members of the Committee would be the first to say that if, 
as is often the case with academic committees, they had been 
forced to write a report after a few months of deliberation, both 
unanimity and understanding of the nature of the problem would 
have been conspicuous by their absence. The title of this book 
might well be "A Study of American Education." 

The letter of transmittal mentions briefly the methods by 
which the study was conducted. But a casual reader may easily 
miss an important point if he fails to realize that the Committee 
was not only considering the problem for nearly three years, but 
spent the equivalent of many weeks of eight-hour working days 
in its investigations and deliberations. The assistance of numerous 
collaborators of wide experience and high standing, and the con- 
sultations with many school and college men who came to Cam- 
bridge required, of course, a budget for expenses considerably 



beyond that which one normally expects a faculty committee to 
spend. It has turned out that the $60,000 appropriated by the 
Harvard Corporation for the expenses of the Committee was a 
fairly accurate measure of the monetary cost of the undertaking. 
The cost in terms of the time and energy of the members, while 
strictly speaking incalculable, is obviously of a different order of 
magnitude. Indeed, it is such cost that usually makes academic 
enterprises of this sort prohibitively expensive. But in the case 
at hand, the importance and the urgency of the problem appeared 
to warrant what was planned. 

Readers of the document who share the writer's enthusiasm 
for the outcome will recognize the debt which Harvard owes to 
the twelve men whose names appear on the letter of transmittal, 
and above all to the Chairman, Professor Paul H. Buck, Dean of 
the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Those who are familiar with 
committees will recognize the hand of genius in this work, for 
without a presiding officer who is both effective and understand- 
ing no such labor can ever be brought to a successful conclusion. 

Potential readers of this book may be divided into three 
classes: educators concerned with school problems, educators 
concerned with university and college problems (and I include 
in this category all professors of arts, letters and professional 
subjects whether or not they bridle at the designation), and lay- 
men. The third group hardly needs to be reminded that a book 
even a book which is an educational report is designed to be 
read as a whole. With the school and college teachers and ad- 
ministrators, the case is somewhat different. Each group will be 
concerned primarily with the relevance of the report to their par- 
ticular problems. Therefore, I may be permitted perhaps to issue 
a solemn warning: any judgment based on an incomplete or frag- 
mentary reading is not only unfair to the authors, but almost 
certain to be false. The book must be taken as a unit. The fifth 
chapter dealing with the problems of one particular college, for 
example, may have significance for other colleges, but it is almost 
certain to be misunderstood if taken apart from the first four 
chapters; similarly with chapter four which deals with some 
aspects of secondary education. 



There will be some who open the book with an initial preju- 
dice against the contents derived from the title. "General edu- 
cation/' they may exclaim, "what's that? I'm interested only in 
liberal education that's what the country needs." For the use 
of the current phrase "general education" instead of "liberal 
education," the writer is ready to take his share of blame. Shortly 
after the Committee had been appointed (in January, 1943, to be 
exact) I reported to the Board of Overseers of Harvard Uni- 
versity as follows: 

"... I am taking the liberty of appointing a University Com- 
mittee on 'The Objectives of a General Education in a Free 
Society.' This committee, composed of members of several facul- 
ties including Arts and Sciences and Education, I hope will con- 
sider the problem at both the school and the college level. For 
surely the most important aspect of this whole matter is the gen- 
eral education of the great majority of each generation not the 
comparatively small minority who attend our four-year col- 
leges. . . . 

"The heart of the problem of a general education is the con- 
tinuance of the liberal and humane tradition. Neither the mere 
acquisition of information nor the development of special skills 
and talents can give the broad basis of understanding which is 
essential if our civilization is to be preserved. No one wishes to 
disparage the importance of being 'well informed.' But even a 
good grounding in mathematics and the physical and biological 
sciences, combined with an ability to read and write several for- 
eign languages, does not provide a sufficient educational back- 
ground for citizens of a free nation. For such a program lacks 
contact with both man's emotional experience as an individual 
and his practical experience as a gregarious animal. It includes 
little of what was once known as 'the wisdom of the ages/ and 
might nowadays be described as 'our cultural pattern.' It in- 
cludes no history, no art, no literature, no philosophy. Unless 
the educational process includes at each level of maturity some 
continuing contact with those fields in which value judgments 
are of prime importance, it must fall far short of the ideal. The 
student in high school, in college and in graduate school must be 



concerned, in part at least, with the words 'right' and 'wrong' in 
both the ethical and the mathematical sense. Unless he feels the 
import of those general ideas and aspirations which have been a 
deep moving force in the lives of men, he runs the risk of partial 

"There is nothing new in such educational goals; what is new 
in this century in the United States is their application to a sys- 
tem of universal education. Formal education based on 'book 
learning' was once only the possession of a professional class; in 
recent times it became more widely valued because of social im- 
plications. The restricted nature of the circle possessing certain 
linguistic and historical knowledge greatly enhanced the prestige 
of this knowledge. 'Good taste' could be standardized in each 
generation by those who knew. But, today, we are concerned 
with a general education a liberal education not for the rela- 
tively few, but for a multitude." 

Whether or not one wishes to equate the terms "liberal educa- 
tion" and "general education" at the college stage, the latter 
phrase has advantages when one examines in a comprehensive 
way the manifold activities of American schools and colleges. 
If the Committee had been concerned only with Harvard Col- 
lege, the title might have read "The Objectives of a Liberal Edu- 
cation." A minor annoyance, to be sure, would have arisen 
quickly, for many specialists in various faculties would- have been 
ready to testify eloquently to the fact that their specialty if prop- 
erly taught was in and by itself a liberal education. No such 
claim has as yet been made in terms of a general education. But 
quite apart from this quarrel over the meaning of a much used 
and much abused adjective, any serious consideration of the 
problems of American schools would have been difficult for a 
university group designated as a committee on liberal education. 
The reasons lie deep in the history of American education in this 
century and are evidence of the cleavage between "educators" 
and "professors" to which I have referred already. Phrases be- 
come slogans and slogans fighting words in education no less 
than in theology. 

Therefore, I may express the hope that the reader of this book 


will drop, as far as possible, his educational prejudices for the 
moment and forget the overtones of many hackneyed phrases as 
he explores through the eyes of a group of university professors 
scientists, classicists, historians, philosophers the present 
status of the American educational system. I hope he will pro- 
ceed with them sympathetically as they consider ways and means 
by which a great instrument of American democracy can both 
shape the future and secure the foundations of our free society. 


June u, 1945 







1. The Problem 3 

2. Growth of the Schools 6 

3. The Impact of Social Change 15 

4. Jeffersonianism and Jacksonianism 31 

5. The Search for Unity 36 


1. Heritage and Change 42 

2. General and Special Education 51 

3. Areas of Knowledge 58 

4. Traits of Mind 64 

5. The Good Man and the Citizen 73 


1. Kinds of Difference 79 

2. Unity Conditioned by Difference 92 

3. Basic Plan for the Schools 98 


1. Mark Hopkins and the Log 103 

2. The Humanities 107 

3. The Social Studies 132 

4. Science and Mathematics 150 

5. Education and the Human Being 167 


1. Types of Collegiate Institutions 178 

2. General Education in Liberal Colleges . . . .180 

3. The Present College 183 



4. Proposed Requirements in General Education . 195 

5. Administration 201 

6. Proposed Courses in General Education . . . 204 

(a) The Humanities 205 

(b) The Social Sciences 213 

(c) Science and Mathematics 220 

7. Tutorial and Advising 230 

8. Harvard as a University College 242 


1. Distractions and Obstacles 248 

2. Adults as Learners 252 

3. New Media of Education 262 

f xii ) 

Letter of Transmittal 



In the spring of 1943 you appointed a University Committee 
on the Objectives of a General Education in a Free Society, with 
members drawn from the faculties of Arts and Sciences and of 
Education. Your instructions to the committee were as expansive 
as its name was long. We were urged to consider the problem of 
general education in both the school and the college. We were 
cautioned that the general education of the great majority of 
each generation in the high schools was vastly more important 
than that of the comparatively small minority who attend our 
four-year colleges. You advised us that the educational process 
falls short of its ideal unless it includes at each stage of maturity 
some continuing contact with liberal and humane studies. The 
goals of these studies, you said, had been the topic of prolonged 
discussion; so much so that the peculiar character of the problem 
was in danger of being missed. "There is nothing new," you 
asserted, "in such educational goals; what is new in this century 
in the United States is their application to a system of universal 

In short, we were directed not so much to make recommenda- 
tions for general education in Harvard College as to venture into 
the vast field of American educational experience in quest of a 
concept of general education that would have validity for the 
free society which we cherish. This concept if found would be 
a true basis upon which to build such special contribution as edu- 
cation in Harvard College could make to American democracy. 

The report we herewith submit to you should be read in the 
light of this, its main purpose. We hope it will provoke discus- 
sion and that it \vill lead to action. We would suggest that the 
recommendations for Harvard College have little meaning in 
themselves if divorced from the earlier chapters which deal with 

( xiii ) 

Letter of Transmittal 

background, theory, and philosophy. The report stands or falls 
as a unit. 

We hope that our colleagues in reading through the report 
from beginning to end will share in the experience of mutual 
self-education which the committee itself underwent. Whatever 
else the report may be, it certainly is the result of joint effort. It 
is the product of twelve men living in close association for two 
years, grappling cooperatively with a complex and stubborn 
problem of major importance. The committee regularly met as 
a whole once a week, frequently more often, and periodically 
secluded itself for sessions of several days' duration. We main- 
tained a central office into which memoranda poured and where 
daily groups smaller than the whole committee met informally 
to discuss our problems. We sought advice both from our col- 
leagues in the university and from persons of various walks of 
life and sections of the country. We brought consultants to 
Cambridge as individuals and in groups. We operated through 
subcommittees and by conferences. All in all, we tapped so far 
as was in our power the rich and varied thinking and experience 
of American education. This procedure was made possible by 
a very generous grant from the President and Fellows of Harvard 
College for the expenses of the committee. 

In emphasizing the joint nature of the report, we must also 
call attention to the unanimity of opinion reached by the com- 
mittee. It should not go unmentioned that twelve men, whose 
teaching and scholarly interests lie in some phase of special edu- 
cation, could by this process of intimate collective study achieve 
so common an understanding of the basic philosophy and content 
of general education. The committee agreed on all matters of 
primary importance. In the application of general principle to 
practice the committee was able to resolve minor disagreement 
by compromise. On a few matters of minor detail there re- 
mained some unresolved difference of opinion. 

Finally, we should like to remind you of the words you used 
to the Board of Overseers in your Annual Report of January i r, 
1943, in describing your purpose in appointing the committee. 
You then wrote: "The primary concern of American education 


Letter of Transmitted 

today is not the development of the appreciation of the 'good life' 
in young gentlemen born to the purple. It is the infusion of the 
liberal and humane tradition into our entire educational system. 
Our purpose is to cultivate in the largest possible number of our 
future citizens an appreciation of both the responsibilities and 
the benefits which come to them because they are Americans and 
are free." 

You will find this theme dominant in the report now submitted 
to you. Such a concept of general education is the imperative 
need of the American educational system. It alone can give 
cohesion to our efforts and guide the contribution of our youth 
to the nation's future. 

Respectfully submitted, 

PAUL II. BUCK, Chairman 

JOHN II. FINLEY, JR., Vice-Chairman 













In preparing this report the committee consulted many col- 
leagues. Some generously served on one of the following sub- 
committees: English and Literature, Mathematics and Science, 
Social Studies, and the Special Problems in the Higher Education 
of Women. Others met with the committee at its regular 

Persons from outside the university who also gave generous 
help included: Harriett M. Allyn, Academic Dean, Mount Hoi- 
yoke College; Earl A. Barrett, Phillips Exeter Academy; James P. 
Baxter, 3rd, President, Williams College; Ronald S. Beasley, 
Groton School; Wilbur J. Bender, Phillips Academy; Corning 
Benton, Phillips Exeter Academy; John Bergstresser, Dean, Col- 
lege of the City of New York; Sarah G. Blanding, Dean, New 
York State College of Home Economics, Cornell University; 
A. A. K. Booth, Personnel Director, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft 
Company; Selma Borchardt, Attorney for the American Fed- 
eration of Labor; Nelle E. Bowman, Director of Social Studies 
in the Public Schools, Tulsa, Oklahoma; Francis I. Brady, Ports- 
mouth Priory School; Henry W. Bragdon, The Brooks School; 
Scott Buchanan, Dean, St. John's College, Annapolis; ^nna P. 
Butler, Cambridge High and Latin School; Morton H. Cassidy, 
Hyde Park High School; Paul D. Collier, Director of the Bureau 
of Youth Services, Connecticut State Department of Education; 
William IL Cowley, President, Hamilton College; Bernice B. 
Cronkhite, Dean, Radcliffe College; Charles K. Cummings, Wes- 
ton High School; Burton L. Gushing, East Boston High School; 
Herbert J. Davis, President, Smith College; Edmund E. Day, 
President, Cornell University; Myrtle C. Dickson, Headmaster, 
Roxbury Memorial High School; Imrie Dixon, Melrose High 
School; Frances D. Dugan, Director, Winsor School; Ruth E. 
Eckert, University of Minnesota; Ruth Edgett, Shady Hill 
School; Irwin Edman, Columbia University; Harold Fields, 
Board of Examiners, New York City; Burton P. Fowler, Prin- 


A cknoivledgments 

cipal, Germantown Friends School; Alonzo G. Grace, Commis- 
sioner of Public Education, State of Connecticut; Harry V. 
Gilson, Commissioner of Education, State of Maine; Ernest 
Green, General Secretary of the Workers' Educational Associa- 
tion of Great Britain; Raymond A. Green, Principal, Newton 
High School; Harriet L. I lardy, Radcliffe College; Margaret 
Hastings, Winsor School; Charles W. Mendel, Yale University; 
Merritt A. Hewitt, Milton Academy; John C. Huden, State Su- 
pervisor, High Schools, Vermont; Galen Jones, Principal, East 
Orange High School; Lewis W. Jones, President, Bennington 
College; Frederick McC. Kelly, United Electrical Radio and Ma- 
chine Workers of America; Gail Kennedy, Amherst College; 
Tyler Kcpner, Brookline High School; Edwin S. W. Kerr, Dean, 
Phillips Exeter Academy, who also kindly furnished the com- 
mittee a meeting room at Phillips Exeter Academy; Allen Y. 
King, Supervisor of Social Studies, Cleveland; Frederick O. 
Koenig, Stanford University; Homer W. LeSourd, Milton Acad- 
emy; Katharine E. McBride, President, Bryn Mawr College; 
James P. McCarthy, Shady Hill School; Thomas R. McConnell, 
Dean, University of Minnesota; Richard H. McFeely, Director 
of Studies, George School; Morris Meister, Science High School, 
New York City; Francis X. Moloney, English High School, 
Boston; William E. Mosher, Dean, Maxwell Graduate School of 
Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University; Winifred 
Nash, Dorchester High School for Girls; Reinhold Niebuhr, 
Union Theological Seminary; II. Dayton Niehaus, Groton 
School; Morris Paladino, International Ladies' Garment Workers 
Union; Robert W. Perry, Maiden High School; William IT. 
Pillsbury, Superintendent of Schools, Schenectady, New York; 
Victor E. Pitkin, Reading High School; Lillian Putnam, Shady 
Hill School; Mary Sawyer, Dean, Brookline High School; 
Charles 1 1. Scholl, International Brotherhood of Electrical 
Workers of America; George E. Shattuck, Principal, Norwich 
Free Academy; Mildred P. Sherman, Dean, Radcliffe College; 
Sara E. Southall, Supervisor of Employment and Service, Inter- 
national Harvester Company; George D. Stoddard, Commis- 
sioner of Education, State of New York; Carl P. Swinnerton, 

( xviii ) 

A cknonjoledgmcnts 

Pomfret School; Katharine Taylor, Director, Shady Hill School; 
William J. R. Taylor, Middlesex School; C. Mildred Thompson, 
Dean, Vassar College; Mark Van Dorcn, Columbia University; 
Julius E. Warren, Commissioner of Education, Commonwealth 
of Massachusetts; Olive II. Wetmore, Radcliffe College (secre- 
tary to the subcommittee on the Special Problems in the Higher 
Education of Women for about three months) ; William C. Wol- 
gast, Principal, East High School, Rochester, New York. 

Members of the Harvard faculty who served on subcommit- 
tees or otherwise gave their aid included: President James B. 
Conant, James F. Barclay, Paul D. Bartlett, Ralph Beatley, Gar- 
rett Birkhoflf, Edward S. Castle, Henry Chauncey, I. Bernard 
Cohen, Archibald T. Davison, Frederick B. Deknatel, Howard 
W. Emmons, Walter Gropius, Richard M. Gummere, A. Chester 
Hanford, Lieutenant Edward Hodnett, Henry W. Holmes, Jo- 
seph F. Hudnut, Truman L. Kelley, Edwin C. Kemble, Delmar 
Leighton, Harry T. Levin, Kirtley F. Mather, Francis O. 
Matthiessen, Theodore Morrison, Frederick G. Nichols, Otto 
Oldenberg, Arthur Pope, George W. Sherburn, Theodore Spen- 
cer, Overton IT. Taylor, David V. Widder. 

The committee wishes to express its special gratitude to Rob- 
ert J. Havighurst, of the University of Chicago, who spent two 
periods of several weeks each with the committee. 

One member, Byron S. Hollinshead, devoted his entire time 
to the work of the committee, having come to Harvard for that 

The following members of the Harvard faculty served as 
members of the committee at one period or another: John T. 
Dunlop, John M. Gaus, Howard M. Jones, Alfred D. Simpson, 
Howard E. Wilson. Sherwood R. Mercer was secretary to the 
committee during its first year. 

The committee owes much to two successive secretaries: 
Shirley D. Hobson and Madelyn S. Brown, and to Elizabeth F. 
Hoxie, who helped prepare the manuscript for publication. 


General Education in a Free Society 


Education in the United States 

The Problem 

We need no Homer to praise us. Rather, we have opened 
the whole earth and sea to our enterprise and raised every- 
where living memorials to our fortune. 

Pericles, as reported by Thucydides 

Youth is the time when the character is being molded and 
easily takes any impress one ?nay wish to stamp on it. Shall 
we then simply allow our children to listen to any stories 
that anyone happens to make up and so receive into their 
minds ideas often the very opposite to those we shall think 
they ought to have when they are grown up? 

Plato, Republic 

THESE two statements from another democracy pose broadly 
the problem of this report. They are in essence contradictory. 
The first breathes the pride of a free society which, through the 
released energy of its citizens, had achieved a power, wealth, 
and height of material progress unknown until that time. The 
second concerns the effects of this creative freedom. It reflects 
a time when many shades of opinion, many forms of special 
knowledge, many standards of life and conduct, beat confusedly 
upon the young, and it asks how under those circumstances they 
might be expected to reach a settled outlook. The achievements 
proclaimed in the first statement thus set the question of the 
second. Taken together they reflect two characteristic facets of 
democracy: the one, its creativity, sprung from the self-trust of 


General Education in a Free Society 

its members; the other, its exposure to discord and even to funda- 
mental divergence of standards precisely because of this creativ- 
ity, the source of its strength. 

General education, as education for an informed responsible 
life in our society, has chiefly to do with the second of these 
questions, the question of common standards and common pur- 
poses. Taken as a whole, education seeks to do two things: help 
young persons fulfill the unique, particular functions in life 
which it is in them to fulfill, and fit them so far as it can for those 
common spheres which, as citizens and heirs of a joint culture, 
they will share with others. Obviously these two ends are not 
wholly separable even in idea much less can preparation for 
them be wholly separate. Who docs not recall from school or 
college some small, seemingly quite minor subject which through 
a teacher or on reflection took on inclusive meaning? Yet to 
analyze is inevitably to separate what in fact clings together, and 
this report on general education will perforce deal mainly with 
preparation for life in the broad sense of completeness as a human 
being, rather than in the narrower sense of competence in a 
particular lot. 

Illogically enough, such being its purpose, it fails to deal with 
the primary school and, still more illogically, with infancy 
surely the times in life when education is nothing if not general. 
But as for infancy, it is doubtful whether a group of professors 
would show at their best on that subject, and as for the primary 
school, its relatively clear, definite function does not at least 
present the confusing choices which come up later. Apart from 
the size of primary classes and the indefensible practice of paying 
teachers less and less the younger the class that they teach, a 
practice related neither to the difficulty nor to the importance of 
their work, we have, moreover, the strong impression that pri- 
mary education in the United States is more satisfactory than 
either secondary or higher education. In any case, what we 
have to say will, rightly or wrongly, be confined to the high 
school and college, though we shall turn briefly at the end to 
adult education and the more imponderable, if not less formative, 
realm of radio and movie. We can claim neither completeness 


Education in the United States 

nor originality. The size of the subject precludes the former, 
and its character, at once ageless and contemporary, the latter. 
Much has lately been written on general education, and several 
colleges and universities have taken new steps toward carrying it 
out. What usefulness this report may have will therefore not be 
of a pioneering kind but because it shares a widespread and (as 
one thinks back over the history of education) surely an ancient 

Why has this concern become so strong in late years? Among 
many reasons three stand out: the staggering expansion of knowl- 
edge produced largely by specialism and certainly conducing to 
it; the concurrent and hardly less staggering growth of our edu- 
cational system with its maze of stages, functions, and kinds of 
institutions; and not least, the ever-growing complexity of society 
itself. It is hard to say whether the effect of these changes has 
been chiefly to estrange future citizens from one another because 
of the very different backgrounds and forms of training from 
which they take up their different parts in life, or, because such 
masses of students have been involved, whether it has not been 
rather toward a stiff uniformity cramping the individual's best de- 
velopment. Certainly both forces have been at work. The ques- 
tion has therefore become more and more insistent: what then is 
the right relationship between specialistic training on the one 
hand, aiming at any one of a thousand different destinies, and 
education in a common heritage and toward a common citizenship 
on the other? It is not too much to say that the very character of 
our society will be affected by the answer to that question. 

It is impossible to talk about general education except against 
this background of growth and change. We shall begin with 
what seem on the whole the clearer of these shaping forces, dis- 
cussing here the growth of our educational system and the 
effects of society on it, and leaving to the next chapter the partic- 
ularly vexed and murky question of the nature and organization 
of modern knowledge. 

The unparalleled growth one could almost say eruption 
of our educational system, taking place as it has while our way 
of life was itself undergoing still vaster changes, is like a mathe- 


General Education in a Free Society 

matical problem in which new unknowns are being constantly 
introduced or like a house under construction for which the 
specifications are forever changing. To have embarked toward 
the ideal of free secondary education was surely to cut out work 
enough. But to have done so when life was always raising new 
demands, when the prospects facing young people were never 
stable, and when the very goals of education had therefore to be 
constantly revised, was to undertake more even than was bar- 
gained for. The wonder is not that our schools and colleges have 
in some ways failed; on the contrary, it is that they have suc- 
ceeded as they have. Restated, then, the background of general 
education involves two far-reaching questions: first, what in 
practice has been implied in the attempt to achieve anything like 
universal free secondary education, and second, what have been 
the complicating cross-currents sweeping across schools and 
colleges from outer society? We shall say a few words, necessar- 
ily inadequate, of each. 

Growth of the Schools 

THE movement toward universal education, inaugurated in a 
few states before the middle of the last century by such prophetic 
figures as Horace Mann and Henry Barnard, had borne fruit by 
the end of the century when free public education had been 
established in every state and free secondary education in most. 
The momentum thereafter steadily mounted, particularly in the 
years following the last war. The period of schooling was ad- 
vanced to sixteen, new buildings went up everywhere, the cur- 
riculum was enormously enlarged, and armies of teachers were 
recruited for the swelling ranks of pupils. As the slender-spired 
white wooden church symbolized an earlier period, so in count- 
less towns across the continent the less aspiring but more tolerant 
and more embracing high-school building symbolized this era. 
The year 1870, just before the movement got strongly under 


Education in the United States 

way, offers a good point of contrast. In the seventy years be- 
tween then and 1940 the population slightly more than tripled. 
But in 1870 some 80,000 students were enrolled in secondary 
schools and 60,000 in colleges, whereas by 1940, 7,000,000 were 
enrolled in the former and 1,500,000 in the latter (while, in addi- 
tion, more than 1,000,000 * were engaged in part-time, vocational, 
and adult education). Thus, while the general population was 
increasing three times over, the enrollment of high schools was 
being multiplied about ninety times and that of colleges about 
thirty times. And the end is not yet. Even now one young 
person in six fails to reach high school, and half of those who 
enter drop out before the end. 2 

But these figures, striking as they are, in some ways tell least 
of the change. It will have been noted that in 1870 three fourths 
of those who attended high school went on to college. The high 
school's function was therefore clear; it was quite simply to pre- 
pare for college. Its curriculum, membership, and general at- 
mosphere were all dominated by that purpose. Those who went 
to high school were therefore a fairly homogeneous group, on the 
whole children of well-to-do families looking forward to the 
learned professions or to leadership in politics or trade. If in- 
cluded among them were doubtless a certain proportion of chil- 
dren of poorer families, still these cherished the same ambitions, 
probably all the more intensely. They were the proverbially 
ambitious poor boys, eager to rise in the world and no doubt 
destined in most cases to do so. No one was compelled to stay in 
high school, and if you could not stand the pace, you fell out. 
The result was that the curriculum, if narrow and rigid by mod- 
ern standards, was compact, testing, and absolutely clear in its 
intention. The teachers, hardly more numerous as a class than 
college teachers, were themselves commonly college men, shar- 

1 About one third were in university-extension courses. 

*The approximate figures are as follows: 

in sixth grade, 90-95 per cent of the age group 

in tenth grade, 60 per cent of the age group 

in twelfth grade, 45 per cent of the age group 

in second year of college, 15 per cent of the age group 

in fourth year of college, 7 per cent of the age group 


General Education in a Free Society 

ing the outlooks and standards of their brethren in higher institu- 
tions and enjoying the same almost ministerial respect and 
naturally so, since the earlier mysteries of composition and mathe- 
matics, Virgil and Xenophon, which were the staple of high 
school, differed only in degree from the higher mysteries of 
advanced mathematics, the more philosophic ancient authors, 
history, rhetoric, and Christian ethics, which were the fare of 

But by another seventy years how great was the change from 
this decorous, self-contained system. The ninetyfold increase in 
numbers observed above, a convulsion as powerful as an earth- 
quake, was of course the controlling fact. But had this increase, 
vast as it has been, meant simply a ninetyfold multiplication of 
the old plan and kind of schooling, it would have been compara- 
tively minor. Far outshadowing in importance this mere numeri- 
cal increase is the gradual change which it has brought about in 
the whole character of the high school and in its function toward 
American society. 

This more significant, more inward change has followed quite 
simply from the fact that, instead of looking forward to college, 
three fourths of the students now look forward directly to work. 
Except for a small minority, the high school has therefore ceased 
to be a preparatory school in the old sense of the word. In so far 
as it is preparatory, it prepares not for college but for life. The 
consequences of this transformation for every phase of the high 
school are incalculable and by no means yet fully worked out. 
This mighty and far-reaching fact in itself gives rise to one of 
the main themes of this report a theme to be set forth more 
fully at the end of the chapter and discussed at length thereafter: 
how, given this new character and role of the high school, can 
the interests of the three fourths who go on to active life be 
reconciled with the equally just interests of the one fourth who 
go on to further education? And, more important still, how can 
these two groups, despite their different interests, achieve from 
their education some common and binding understanding of the 
society which they will possess in common? 

But instead of pursuing this question now, it is worth observing 


Education in the United States 

somewhat more exactly what this new part is which the high 
school has been called on to play. It is, in essence, the incom- 
parably difficult task of meeting, in ways which they severally 
respect and will respond to, masses of students of every conceiv- 
able shade of intelligence, background, means, interest, and ex- 
pectation. Unlike the old high school in which no one was com- 
pelled to stay if he could not or did not wish to do the work, the 
modern high school must find place for every kind of student 
whatever his hopes and taknts. It cannot justly fail to adapt 
itself, within reason, to any. No argument is being attempted 
here for what has been called, usually scornfully, at an earlier 
stage "the child-centered school." We are stating the simple fact 
that, in an industrial age, no alternative exists to the widespread 
employment of minors (or, much more likely, their widespread 
unemployment) except some concept of schooling which recog- 
nizes and meets the vast actual differences among students. Fu- 
ture generations will probably think that, much as has already 
been done, it is only a beginning. The tendency is always to 
strike a somewhat colorless mean, too fast for the slow, too slow 
for the fast. The ideal is a system which shall be as fair to the 
fast as to the slow, to the hand-minded as to the book-minded, 
but which, while meeting the separate needs of each, shall yet 
foster that fellow feeling between human being and human being 
which is the deepest root of democracy. 

But already, it hardly need be said, these inescapable differ- 
ences among students have brought about a huge increase in the 
number and kind of subjects taught in high school. That change, 
to be sure, has not taken place to anything like the same extent in 
small country high schools with few teachers and fewer facilities, 
which are still the majority, though they no longer have the 
majority of pupils. But even here the widespread movement 
toward consolidating small country schools in a central school to 
which pupils come from round about has made possible a very 
great enlargement of courses. It is therefore of some importance 
to see why such an enlargement is a great gain, but also what 
difficulties it raises. 

The heart of the question is what is meant by difference of 


General Education in a Free Society 

intelligence. For it is obviously for this reason that some students 
are at home in the traditional subjects, while others flounder and 
fail. It has been estimated that algebra, for instance, is success- 
fully taught to fourteen-year-olds of slightly superior gifts but 
that, as now taught at least, it is more or less meaningless to fully 
half of the age group. What does such a fact mean? The answer 
if it could be fully known would certainly be most complex, and 
no claim is made here to knowing it. But this much seems clear: 
that, however finally rooted in native endowment (the mere 
physical and nervous make-up of the brain), intelligence depends 
also on habit and outlook which in turn go back to earliest op- 
portunity. A child brought up where books are read, interests 
are in the air, and promptings everywhere solicit his own small 
explorations will evidently stand a better chance of exhibiting 
intelligence, as our society judges it, than one who has felt no 
such promptings. But who can say that at birth the one child was 
more promising than the other? One approaches here a realm of 
causation doubly shaped by physical accident and the visible 
hand of the social order. The result is that what passes for intelli- 
gence is certainly in part the same thing as opportunity, by which 
is meant the whole complex of surroundings which help to shape 
a child's view of the world and of his place in it. 

It was said that the high school is morally obliged to adapt 
itself to every kind of student. The view of intelligence just set 
forth is the ground of this duty. For assuming that a young 
person's abilities to some extent reflect his surroundings and 
both together color his hopes of life and expectations of himself, 
then a truly democratic education must perforce try to equalize 
opportunity by counteracting impediments. But it cannot do so 
simply by offering the conventional academic subjects to all 
students indiscriminately. These, again as now taught at least, 
are too alien to the backgrounds of most students to be anything 
like generally effective in breaking down the barriers of circum- 
stance. Something closer to their experience is needed which, 
by meeting them halfway, will lead them out and beyond them- 
selves. That is not the case, to be sure, with the very gifted. 
Their vivid minds, like powerful currents, overleap all breaks 


Education in the United States 

between life and study, supplying by imagination what they have 
missed in experience. Much has been written, and rightly so, about 
the need of seeing to it that such students, whatever their means, 
find their path clear to the topmost reaches of education. We 
shall return to the subject later. Certainly few subjects touch 
more closely the spirit of democratic education. But democracy 
is not only opportunity for the able. It is equally betterment for 
the average, both the immediate betterment which can be gained 
in a single generation and the slower groundswell of betterment 
which works through generations. Hence the task of the high 
school is not merely to speed the bright boy to the top. It is at 
least as much (so far as numbers are concerned, far more) so to 
widen the horizons of ordinary students that they and, still more, 
their children will encounter fewer of the obstacles that cramp 

To return then to the profusion of courses in the modern high 
school, its justification is by no means wholly practical: simply 
to fit young people for various kinds of jobs. The justification is 
quite as much one of method: to meet students on their own 
ground, to draw on their experience, to appeal to their hopes, 
and, by recognizing the influence of circumstance, to mitigate it. 
Manual training, business training, work in mechanics and agri- 
culture, courses in health and home economics these and a 
thousand more functional adaptations of the older disciplines, 
such as general mathematics instead of algebra and geometry, 
discussion courses instead of composition and literature, study of 
work and government in the United States instead of formal his- 
tory all reflect in part at least the search for the right means of 
influencing the great mass of students who, through bent or 
background or both, learn little from the conventional studies. 
This search will continue and will almost certainly produce a yet 
greater diversity. As was said, there is no solution simply in 
striking a dull average, satisfactory to neither the quick nor the 
slow. Too little has been done for the slow especially those 
who in simpler times would have left school early and gained 
through work the kind of self-respect and upstandingness which 
they find hard to gain from books. The movement toward some 


General Education in a Free Society 

form of national or community service clearly owes some of its 
support to the feeling that the schools have failed with these 
young people. But be that as it may, the present diversity of in- 
struction in the high school reflects dimly like a clouded mirror 
the diversity of our society itself, and it will not be adequate 
until it catches the image more exactly. 

Put thus as the reflection of modern life, this growth of the 
curriculum raises again, but more clearly now, the main problem 
of this report, which has to do, not with the thousand influences 
dividing man from man, but with the necessary bonds and com- 
mon ground between them. Democracy, however much by en- 
suring the right to differ it may foster difference particularly 
in a technological age which further encourages division of 
function and hence difference of outlook yet depends equally 
on the binding ties of common standards. It probably depends 
more heavily on these ties than does any other kind of society 
precisely because the divisive forces within it are so strong. But, 
from what has been said, it is clear that this task of implanting 
common ties is far from simple. The very disparity between 
students which has forced the high school to its expanded cur- 
riculum means that there is no single form of instruction that can 
reach all equally. Hence, even if it could be agreed what stand- 
ards Americans have in common, the task of interpreting these to 
students of different ages, gifts, and interests must still be im- 
mense. Again, the fact that some students prolong their educa- 
tion far beyond high school, while the great majority do not, 
could become to some extent has already become a strongly 
dividing force. For to the degree that high schools try to prepare 
the majority for early entrance into active life by giving them 
all sorts of practical, immediately effective training, to that de- 
gree something like a chasm opens between them and the others 
whose education is longer. And in this chasm are the possibilities 
of misunderstanding and class distinction. But to see these 
difficulties is to grasp more firmly what must be the char- 
acter of general education. It must be at once, as it were, 
horizontal, in the sense of uniting students of similar ages, and 
also perpendicular, in the sense of providing a strand that 

Education in the United States 

will run through both high school and college, uniting different 

Finally, before leaving the growth of the high school, it is 
worth adding a few words on a subject closely related to the ex- 
pansion of the curriculum, the course-unit system. It has this re- 
lation to the curriculum because it is the mechanism whereby 
courses of every kind are legitimatized, put on equal footing, and 
made available for tabulation. A unit represents a year's work in 
one subject, and for graduation a student offers sixteen such 
units (or fifteen when four years of English are mysteriously 
counted as three). But it is important to note that he may not 
haphazardly combine any courses to make up this total. On the 
contrary, his choice is strictly limited by the kind of diploma for 
which he is aiming. Large high schools commonly offer several 
different over-all courses: vocational, business, general, college- 
preparatory, and scientific. Of these the general course alone 
leaves the student comparatively free; the others all specify fairly 
exactly the range of subjects from which he shall choose. A few 
conclusions therefore follow about the course-unit system. It is 
in practice the instrument by which the great diversity of gifts 
and interests among students is matched by an equal diversity of 
instruction. Hence the profusion of courses, all equally counting 
as one unit, to which it has led. Then, it resembles the system of 
"concentrating" or "majoring" in a given subject which is in 
force in most colleges, in that it tends to increase rather than to 
mitigate these differences in students. For, being combined with 
a series of restrictions on choice of subjects, it in effect divides 
the high school into a number of lesser schools which, at least so 
far as the curriculum is concerned, are virtually sealed off from 
one another. 

The course-unit system is thus in practice a divisive force in the 
high school. And because it encourages students to think of their 
studies as a series of blocks, each a unit complete in itself and 
separable from all others, it has a somewhat similar effect on the 
individual student also. That is, it divides his work into compart- 
ments, some of which may be related to others before or after, 
but many of which are simply islands of experience, connecting 


General Education in a Free Society 

with nothing, leading to nothing. It is noteworthy that European 
schools follow a quite different scheme. Students there take the 
same six or seven subjects concurrently through successive years, 
though with different emphasis and expense of time in any given 
year. The intention evidently is to keep all subjects steadily be- 
fore the student as he matures, in the hope of giving his work 
both sequence and roundedness. In our system the heaping up of 
requirements for any one of the diplomas gives some such thread 
of sequence but without adequate roundedness and at the expense, 
as has been said, of dividing the high school into virtually autono- 
mous groups. 

Within limits, this dispersion and dividing of work both in the 
high school as a whole and in the case of any single student is no 
doubt desirable. The differences between students make it even 
to some extent inevitable. Seen in perspective, the course-unit 
system reflects more clearly than anything else simply the titanic 
growth of the high school. It has been a method of setting 
standards and defining functions, almost of setting up inter- 
changeable parts. Tasks have had to be known in advance if 
teachers were to be trained for them; students have had to be 
provided with universally recognizable records. The whole vast 
machinery of the high school has necessarily veered toward 
standardization as the alternative to chaos. 

Yet the system has its serious dangers. From what has been said 
these will appear chiefly two: the alienation of students from 
each other in mind and outlook because their courses of study for 
the various diplomas are so distinct, and the disjointedness of any 
given student's work because instead of being conceived as a 
whole it falls into scattered parts. The first of these two points 
has been made already. The root idea of general education is as 
a balance and counterpoise to the forces which divide group from 
group within the high school and the high school from the col- 
lege. But in so far as general education is also conceived as an 
organic strand running through the successive years of high 
school and college, then it should play the same binding, unifying 
part for the individual as well. Certainly it will fail of its full 
function unless it does so. 


Education in the United States 

The Impact of Social Change 

SO much for the growth of the high school. But, as was said 
at the start, this growth, though revolutionary, has not alone 
guided its development or prescribed its characteristic form. The 
unceasing, ever-faster process of change that has gone on simul- 
taneously in outer society, by creating new conditions the effects 
of which have flowed back over the high school like a flood, has 
been at least equally shaping. Though it is possible to do even 
less justice here to this huge subject, still an attempt must be made 
to suggest something of its importance. 

The great underlying fact to which every phase of the ques- 
tion in some way goes back is the change of the United States, 
during the period which we have been considering, from a mainly 
agricultural to a mainly urban and industrial nation. The familiar 
statistics hardly need repeating in detail. From the turn of the 
century to 1940, the number of people living in communities of 
twenty-five hundred or more rose from about 40 to 56 per cent. 
Fostered by quick means of transportation, great metropolitan 
districts came into being, each embracing one or more central 
cities with satellite towns and farming lands, and these, some one 
hundred and forty in number, contain nearly half the population. 
Meanwhile, the wealth invested in industries increased many 
times over and their output at an even faster rate. Industrializa- 
tion became increasingly a national phenomenon, with the South 
and Far West affected in only less degree than the older sections 
of the East and Middle West, and with the war tending to erase 
even these disparities. To an amazing degree people's environ- 
ment has come to consist of machines and man-made things, much 
as the environment of animals is made up of natural objects and 
growing things. Even the farmer and his wife have mechanized 
their work, go to town in a car, and hear the voice of the city 
from the radio. 


General Education in a Free Society 

The educational effect of this mighty change has been equally 
great, though different, on city and on country. Of the two, the 
country has fared far the less well, and because education is a 
state and local responsibility, those states which are largely rural, 
less industrialized, and less wealthy have been at a very great dis- 
advantage in comparison with their richer and more urban neigh- 
bors. Mississippi, for instance, is able to spend only a fifth as much 
per pupil as New York and to pay its teachers and principals an 
average annual salary of $559 against New York's $2604. Ten 
states annually spend less than $50 a pupil, whereas eight spend 
more than $100. The birth rate being higher in the country than 
in the city, the poorer states face the further disadvantage of 
having a relatively higher proportion of children to educate. 
South Carolina, for instance, has twice the proportion of children 
to adults as Los Angeles county; yet Los Angeles has five times 
the wealth available for education. Indeed, if South Carolina 
spent its entire state budget for education, it would still be spend- 
ing less per pupil than do several states. 

Such disparities have roused the current movement to obtain 
federal support for education. The question is troublesome. On 
the one side is the evident fact that in no sphere is local and state 
concern more natural or rightly stronger than in education. It is 
the sphere next removed from the family itself, touching parents 
and communities in their closest interests. Hence in no sphere is 
remote control less desirable. On the other side is the equally 
evident fact that the nation at large has no less concern for the 
condition of its young people. Americans move about more than 
any people on earth. Country children go to the city, young 
people brought up in one section move to another. The quality 
of education in one state therefore affects all other states. It fol- 
lows that the federal government has an inescapable duty toward 
education, the more so because the income tax is increasingly 
draining from the states the funds by which education can be 

It has in fact recognized this duty, though spasmodically and 
for the most part in conjunction with other aims, as in the Civilian 
Conservation Corps, which was partly educational in function, 


Education in the United States 

in the National Youth Administration, which was more fully so, 
and even as early as the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 furthering 
vocational training. The war has brought other steps of the same 
ambiguous kind, in the use of schools and colleges for training 
and in educational provisions for veterans. Nothing is more to be 
wished than that the whole tangled subject be clarified and a 
solution found which shall do justice at once to the clear need 
for local and state control and yet to the equally clear obligation 
of the federal government toward those states which cannot now 
support anything like an adequate system of schooling. There is 
a further question whether the best interests of the nation, in both 
peace and war, would not be served by federal subvention of very 
able students. 

The difference of educational opportunity as between country 
and city thus appears in part as a difference between state and 
state. But it appears also as a difference within any given state, 
and this whole question of the relative advantages of the country 
and the city child leads in turn to a basic and intensely interesting 
question concerning the larger role of the modern school. In 
simpler times, still partly perpetuated in small towns and in the 
country, schooling, far from being the whole of education, was 
only one among several influences at least as strong, probably 
stronger. First and strongest was the family, usually large, living 
together in a household where each member had tasks and all 
watched and learned the others' tasks. Then, there was the world 
of crops, animals, and wild nature, the green or snowy margin 
ever at the door, a standing lure to learning and doing. In addi- 
tion were the relatively clear, settled standards of less changing 
times, those of the family first of all, but hardly less those of the 
community of small-town or country neighbors. And finally 
there was the more or less tight bond of the church. By tempera- 
ment most city-bred moderns probably tend either to idealize or 
to disparage these conditions. Certainly it is hard to judge them 
accurately. Moreover, they differed enormously from place to 
place. It is a far cry indeed from the secure small towns de- 
scribed by Sarah Orne Jewett to the more cheerless of the Mis- 
sissippi settlements visited by Huckleberry Finn. We are not 


General Education in a Free Society 

concerned here to judge these conditions but simply to point out 
that, for better or worse, the older school was as the country 
school to some extent still is strictly limited in function because 
other influences were so strong. 

To conclude with the country school, its disadvantage as com- 
pared with the city school is therefore less great than might ap- 
pear at first sight. For the latter's ever- widening scope which 
now extends to health, athletics, extracurricular activities of all 
kinds, counseling, placement, and even in some cases to staying 
open all day and all year as a meeting ground and place of or- 
ganized doings is in part simply a compensation for the re- 
strictions of city life. The country school, on the other hand, 
having to supply no such compensations, has less call to be so 
elaborate. Yet it is true that the country school has serious needs. 
As was noted, many country children eventually find their way 
to the city, where more complex conditions await them and they 
must compete for all kinds of jobs. Moreover, farming itself has 
become increasingly technical, both as a science and in the use of 
machines. When one reflects that the majority of American high 
schools are still small rural schools of five or six teachers and less 
than one hundred and thirty pupils, it is evident that enormous 
tasks are to be done. These are mostly tasks of consolidation and 
redistricting and to some extent of specializing. Consolidation of 
outlying schools in a central school makes possible a range of 
courses much more nearly equal to the actual differences among 
pupils than anything that a small school can offer. Specializing 
means the setting up in one district of a school strong in certain 
subjects and, in another district, of one strong in others. There 
are evident dangers and difficulties in such a scheme: dangers of 
overspecialization, difficulties of transportation or living away 
from home. But if the country child is to crown his many native 
advantages by a formal education in any way equal to that of his 
city cousin which is to say, if his advantages are to be of the 
use to him and to the nation that they might be then some such 
steps must be carried forward in all parts of the country as fully 
as they have been carried forward already in some. That possi- 
bility in turn leads back to the question of federal support. 


Education in the United States 

The wave of change which has lifted and shaken every phase 
of American life has thus not failed to touch the country high 
school, in part simply negatively by leaving it stranded in old, 
now outmoded ways, in part positively by carrying it forward to 
new ways. But the city, with all its familiar complexities and 
contradictions, its unity yet discord, its efficiency yet waste, its 
opportunity yet frustration, is after all the characteristic feature 
of the times, and it is the city high school which puts most neatly 
the current problems of education. These spring in part from the 
weakening or loss of precisely those things which the country 
school can assume: the previously noted influences of family, 
household, chores, animals, countryside, community, church, 
which had always been taken for granted as the framework of 
education until they began to disappear. They reflect in part also 
the growth of entirely new influences, comparative freedom from 
work, readier access to books, ideas, and music, the indiscriminate 
presence of the movies, radio, and pulp magazines. Not least im- 
portant, they reflect the economic and cultural schisms within the 
seeming unity of the city, schisms which are all the greater if one 
reckons as part of the city the industrial and residential areas 
around it. And with everything else they reflect the weight of 
sheer numbers. 

There is of course no such thing as the typical city high school. 
But certain broad types can be distinguished. First there is the 
very large school of two thousand students or more, 3 situated in 
the crowded part of the city and drawing mostly from working- 
class families. The classes are big, averaging at least forty, and an 
air of regimentation and discipline prevails. Students march from 
class to class, and it is no accident that men teachers are in the 
halls between periods and that a patrolman loiters by the entrance. 
Equipment and objects of art are under lock and key. Teachers, 
all specialists in their subject, have five classes daily in addition to 
keeping the "home room." Their material is largely planned for 
them by the state and local authorities. In the press of faces they 
have difficulty in knowing or following any one student, a task 
left to a rarely adequate staff of professional counselors. There 

Over fifty high schools have five thousand or more students each. 


General Education in a Free Society 

are athletic teams, which, however, affect only comparatively 
few. The building is closed at a certain hour in the afternoon, 
after which, unless a student has a job, he has little to do except 
to idle at the street corner or play the juke box or finger magazines 
in a drugstore. Such a school offers many different kinds of voca- 
tional training, and the great majority are enrolled in one of these, 
having made their choice more or less at random at the age of 
fourteen or fifteen. Only a few, perhaps a tenth, go on to college. 
Like this school, though smaller, poorer, less ably taught, harsher 
in atmosphere, thinner in offering, and usually still more domi- 
nated by politics, are high schools in the very heart of industrial 
areas. Many of these are made up almost wholly of first- or 
second-generation Americans. Very few of their graduates go 
to college. 

In sharp contrast to either of the foregoing is the high school 
in some comfortable suburb. Classes are smaller; teachers are 
better paid; the Parent-Teachers Association is eager and inter- 
ested; there are many activities such as plays, athletics, and student 
publications; an atmosphere of concern for education pervades 
the school and the staff. A cleavage, to be sure, runs between the 
college-preparatory group and those who are taking vocational 
and business courses, and this cleavage reflects a difference of 
means and background. But lines are not sharply drawn; many 
able but less well-to-do pupils, responding to the favorable at- 
mosphere and encouraged by interested teachers, take the col- 
lege-preparatory course. The activities of the school are also a 
common bond. About half the graduates of this school go on 
either to college or to further education of some sort. 

Two other schools somewhat resemble it: the private school 
and the central high school in prosperous small towns, particularly 
in the Middle West. These are the extremes, so to speak, of 
which the suburban high school is the mean. All three have in 
common a sense of solidarity and pride in the school, a more or 
less personal relationship between teachers and pupils, a fairly 
thoroughgoing internal democracy, however unrepresentative the 
private school may be of the whole community, and a vigorous 
set of activities surrounding the schoolwork as such. The two 


Education in the United States 

extremes differ in that the private school draws from a much more 
restricted class and sends virtually all its graduates to college. 
The students are both more sheltered and more forced. The good 
small-town high school, on the other hand, is a cross-section of 
the town itself, and its strength is that of a community where 
everyone goes by his first name. In an academic sense it is per- 
haps less good than either the suburban high school or the private 
school, but it always sends a fair proportion of its graduates to 
college and contributes at least its full share, probably more than 
its share, of distinguished people. 

These examples are doubtless neither typical nor complete. 
Most actual schools are probably a cross between two or more of 
the types just described, and we have omitted other types, for 
instance, parochial schools and various technical and trade schools. 
But even these examples will suffice to reinforce the point already 
made: namely, that as the roundedness and self-sufficiency of an 
earlier, partly rural way of life have disappeared, the school has 
necessarily taken on new functions. Or rather, the schools of 
well-to-do communities have taken on these functions. The com- 
parative lack of them among precisely those parts of the popula- 
tion which have borne the brunt of industrialization is the point 
most worth noticing. 

What are these functions? They are first of all those which 
follow from the inherent nature of the city as a place where 
people congregate for the convenience of work. That means 
that living quarters are small, there is little family life, fewer odd 
jobs (everything being manufactured), fewer chances for recrea- 
tion (all the land being taken up). The school alone under these 
conditions is the place formally set aside for young people, and 
their life in consequence inevitably centers about it. Hence the 
rise of boarding schools and the multiplication of activities in all 
high schools where the means are sufficient. No other course is 
possible. Health, play, social life, avocations, help in the choice 
of a career: all devolve increasingly on the school and have in fact 
thus devolved in the case of the comparatively well-to-do, who 
least need such help. In the case of the others, the Y.M.C.A., 
settlement houses, the Boy Scouts, churches, public libraries, and 


General Education in a Free Society 

other independent agencies have done and continue to do im- 
portant work. Such privately supported organizations are char- 
acteristic of democratic and especially of American life. Churches 
in particular do a kind of work which, by its nature, no publicly 
supported agency can attempt. Yet it is probable that even these 
influences have not been able to keep pace with the times. Over 
and above, then, the enlargement of the curriculum discussed 
earlier, the modern city high school faces in part has already 
faced a further and equally great extracurricular enlargement. 
It is not too much to expect that by another few decades most 
city schools, like a few at present, will be staffed and equipped to 
stay open all day the year round as places where the young can 
achieve that fullness of opportunity which the city otherwise 

But, as with the enlargement of the curriculum, there are prob- 
lems and dangers in this extracurricular enlargement. These are 
in part simply another phase of the familiar modern problem of a 
planned society. How far can such paternalism go without sap- 
ping the final responsibility of the individual? But this question 
inevitably raises another: what responsibility can the individual 
be expected to assume unless he has known good influences? 
Whether you interpret democracy primarily as political democ- 
racy protecting the rights of the individual or as economic de- 
mocracy protecting opportunity for the mass, there is a point 
where the two views meet: namely, that opportunity means noth- 
ing unless it is opportunity for good, which in turn depends on 
some experience of the good. Even Jefferson's competitive, selec- 
tive ideal of democratic education rests on the assumption that at 
each stage the teacher and the school shall be the best possible, so 
that those who might otherwise be handicapped will have equal 
chance to get ahead. Thus when the modern city deprives many 
young people of the most basic concomitants to education, is it 
not the school's place to supply these so far as it can, even over 
and above the curriculum? There seems no doubt of the answer, 
and this wider view of the school's function will underlie much 
that is said about general education in later chapters. 

This expansion raises other questions still, notably as to the 


Education in the United States 

nature and function of teaching. We have said little hitherto 
about teaching, and what follows bears equally on what was said 
earlier about the growth of the curriculum. It has been fashion- 
able for some time among college people to criticize public-school 
teaching and, still more bitterly, the teachers' colleges, schools of 
education, and normal schools which prepare for it. School peo- 
ple for their part have come to believe that colleges have no grasp 
of public education except as it concerns themselves and no in- 
terest in it except to criticize. This state of mutual acrimony is 
understandable, if not excusable, as another and particularly con- 
fusing result of the expansion of the public school. It seems clear 
in retrospect that when, about 1900, the need for literally armies 
of teachers became evident, liberal colleges and universities faced 
a decisive choice. Either they might train these teachers as they 
had those of earlier generations, in which case, however, very 
serious changes would have to be made in the conventional col- 
lege curriculum; or else they might keep their traditional dedica- 
tion to higher studies, in which case they would surrender the 
training of teachers to new and, in terms of knowledge and tradi- 
tion, far less well-equipped institutions and themselves increas- 
ingly lose touch with the schools. The element of expense also 
entered in. The pay that most schoolteachers could expect and 
the means with which a great many started hardly justified four 
years even at a state university, much less at an endowed college. 
Many also could not have met the usual collegiate requirements. 
For these and other reasons, the second of the two choices just 
mentioned was in fact made by the colleges, no doubt in part un- 
consciously and out of inertia. Any other choice would have 
been hard, and there is something to be said in our complex age 
for a specialization whereby colleges and teachers' colleges each 
perform their unique function. But the consequences have been 
grave, not only the misunderstanding already noted but loss of 
any continuing interchange whereby each group might inform 
and influence the other. This report is, in some sense, only an 
attempt to bridge, so far as is possible at this date and by such 
means, this dividing canyon. 

The reproach commonly expressed by college people is that, 


General Education in a Free Society 

as a result of their training, teachers are badly educated even in 
the subjects which they teach, much more so in other subjects. 
The reason given is that their training, brief in any case, is largely 
taken up with methods, psychology, and administration with 
anything, in short, except the subject to be taught. And schools 
of education, it is said, sink deeper and deeper into these bad 
habits, making of teaching an elaborate and largely incom- 
prehensible pseudo science instead of the essentially clear and 
straightforward task which it should be. Still worse, the criticism 
goes on, they have falsely persuaded the legislatures of most 
states to make these technical subjects a prerequisite to the teach- 
ing license a clinching deterrent to entering upon teaching with 
a sound general background. The reply of experts on education 
and some teachers has, in effect, been already described. It is that 
the growth of our educational system has brought into the schools 
crowds of students so immensely varied in abilities and outlooks 
that the chief problem today is less to know the subject which 
you teach than to know what to teach and how to teach it. Edu- 
cation, in this view, is essentially a matter of social planning. 
Hence the emphasis on methods. In addition, there is the com- 
monly suppressed assumption that, in view of the numbers of 
teachers necessary, they could not all be of the highest talent and 
accordingly the best that could be done would be to make up by 
knowledge of method what might be lacking in native endow- 
ment and general cultivation. 

As usual, both sides have much to be said for them. It is of 
course true that in the end only the spark of knowledge and 
devotion to knowledge will kindle an answering flame in students. 
Hence everything finally depends on the teacher's quality of 
mind and spirit. But it is also true that criticism, though well 
founded, means little when it comes from those who have neither 
seriously considered nor themselves experienced the killing 
weight of numbers, the low pay, the political interference, the 
struggle against bad backgrounds and influences, the imperson- 
ality implicit in any big system, the demands on nervous energy 
and sheer physical strength, that characterize the life of the 
public-school teacher. 


Education in the United States 

We return, therefore, to the earlier question: what are the con- 
ditions necessary for good teaching within the wider curriculum 
and wider concept of the school? The answer seems to fall into 
three parts: higher pay for teaching, a more widespread dedica- 
tion to it, and a clearer recognition that, like the kingdom of 
heaven, it is a house of many mansions, each different, each hon- 
orable. The first two points are inseparable from each other. The 
people who should will not go into teaching unless it is more 
respected and more highly paid merely as teaching, not as super- 
intending or administering, the jobs better paid at present. At the 
same time, it will be neither more respected nor better paid until 
more dedicated people go into it. Like the ministry and the armed 
services, teaching will presumably never be so lucrative as other 
callings. At least it never has been, except in the writings of 
philosophers. But there seems hope that the peculiar violence of 
expansion in commerce and industry which took able people from 
it during the last half-century will be less strong in the next. If 
so, its quieter rewards and more inward satisfactions will come to 
be more justly valued for what they are. Assuming that the 
growth of higher education will henceforth also be less violent, 
there is further hope that colleges and universities will take up 
once more their ancient function of influencing students toward 
schoolteaching, a function which they have largely abrogated in 
past decades when every influence has been toward college 

Meanwhile, an unceasing struggle must be fought to free edu- 
cation from a type of direct political control which seeks to im- 
pose appointments, restrain the legitimate freedom of teachers, 
and even dictate what they should teach. No doubt the ultimate 
control of education must be political. But there is a serious ques- 
tion whether appointive school boards, membership on which is 
given after scrutiny and for a term of years to demonstrably 
qualified persons, are not more informed, more independent, and 
more responsible than most of the present elective boards. With 
this struggle against direct political control must come a similar 
struggle against excessive technical requirements for the teaching 
license. No doubt some such requirements are beneficial say, 

General Education in a Free Society 

six or eight hours in practice-teaching and educational psychol- 
ogy, instead of the sixteen or eighteen hours in these and other 
subjects now commonly asked. Surely the hope of a sound gen- 
eral education is in teachers who are themselves generally edu- 

But, as was said, these hopes will not be fulfilled automatically, 
and the conditions of teaching will not improve until more and 
better-qualified people embark on it in a spirit of devotion. One 
of the tragedies of our time has been the change of teaching from 
a calling to something like an industry. The fault, as has been 
argued, is at once with the colleges, which have turned their 
backs; with the schools of education, which have taught every- 
thing except the indispensable thing, the love of knowledge; and 
with American society itself, which has tolerated the conditions 
under which many students and their teachers still labor. The 
remedy is a joint concern both of the public and of people who 
so believe in the importance of high-school teaching as the floor 
and foundation of democracy that they will go into it as a calling. 

There is one further precondition to improvement: a clearer 
realization of the variety yet interdependence of tasks in the new 
high school. The variety of these tasks has been suggested al- 
ready; it follows from the expansion of all extracurricular activi- 
ties and of the curriculum itself. Their interdependence is hard 
to grasp clearly, harder still to make real in practice. Yet pre- 
cisely in this interdependence lies the heart of education in a com- 
mon tradition and for a common citizenship. The big modern 
high school resembles the modern university in being minutely 
subdivided. Up to a point it must be. Each subject requires its 
special training and fosters its particular outlook; the atmosphere 
of academic subjects differs from that of vocational subjects; the 
function of the teacher from the function of the counselor. Yet, 
from what has been said of the degree to which the high school 
is and must increasingly become the center of young people's lives 
in cities and even in towns, it follows that all its phases, being thus 
educational in the broader sense, must be bound together by com- 
mon purposes if they are to exert a rounded, unifying influence. 

The implications of this very important point for the cur- 


Education in the United States 

riculum have been already broached, and we shall revert to them 
in later chapters. More will also be said on the place of extracur- 
ricular activities in fostering the aims of general education. Here 
we would return to the basic postulates of democracy for this 
large yet ideally interdependent school. Democracy was earlier 
taken to imply two in part contradictory commands: first, that of 
discovering and giving opportunity to the gifted student and, 
second, that of raising the level of the average student. One can 
call these two forces, in education no less than in politics, the 
Jeffersonian and the Jacksonian. 4 Our point here is that there is 
need for a more complete democracy in both these senses not only 
between student and student but between subject and subject 
and teacher and teacher. In saying this, we have in mind the 
powerful, widespread, and very unhappy distinction of atmos- 
phere and general standing between academic and vocational 
courses. The latter tend to be simply the dumping ground for 
those who do not succeed in the former. There are obviously 
strong forces in American society making for this state of things. 
The wish to get ahead, parents' desires that their children shall 
have what they have lacked, the vague optimistic belief of many 
young people that they may go to college and hence might need 
the preparatory subjects, teachers' better preparation in these 
subjects, and their naturally greater interest in brighter pupils: 
all this and simple snobbishness tend to give luster to the academic 
course and a higher status to its teachers. For the same reason, 
the academic course tends to be crowded with students who do 
not belong in it, and hence is often diluted. But this is not our 
main point here; rather that it is a strange state of affairs in an 
industrial democracy when those very subjects are held in dis- 
repute which are at the heart of the national economy and those 
students by implication condemned who will become its oper- 
The question, to which no adequate answer has as yet been 

*This terminology is certainly unfair to Jefferson's express interest in the 
citizen-farmer and artisan. But it does reflect the importance which, in Notes 
on the State of Virginia, he attached to selection of the ablest through educa- 


General Education in a Free Society 

found, is, then, how to endue all subjects in the modern high 
school, and the teachers of these, with a respect commensurate to 
their equally necessary part in American life. Here Jeffersonian 
and Jacksonian principles collide head on, and subjects making 
for success create an atmosphere harmful to those making for 
simple usefulness. In this connection it is important to distinguish 
clearly between so-called technical courses and those in manual 
training. It is sometimes falsely assumed that students not gifted 
in mind are gifted in hand. That is not the case. Virtually as 
high an intelligence is demanded for success in a good technical 
high school as in a good college-preparatory course. These two, 
the academic and the technical courses, are the aristocracy of the 
high school, and in them the Jeffersonian principle of selection 
operates. However imperfect they may be, cause for major con- 
cern is not in them, but in the vocational and trade courses, re- 
garded as inferior, made up of inferior students, and taught by 
inferior teachers. And this concern must be the greater because 
this distinction bears a relationship to American life as a whole. 
It has been estimated that about 10 per cent of the jobs in the 
United States are professional or managerial, that another 25 or 
30 per cent demand some technical training (for instance, scien- 
tific farming, any one of the skilled trades, office work), but that 
for the great remaining mass of more than half the jobs no previ- 
ous training is necessary. It is of future holders of these that we 
are thinking now. Colleges and professional schools on the whole 
prepare for the first kind of jobs; junior colleges, technical high 
schools, and trade schools prepare for the second kind; responsi- 
bility for the third kind is on the grammar schools and high 
schools alone. Moreover, this is a responsibility for a strictly 
general, not a technical, education since, as said, education of the 
latter kind is not necessary for these jobs. This important point 
was touched on earlier when we said that the huge expansion of 
the curriculum was not chiefly intended to fit students for spe- 
cific jobs but rather to reach all students in ways which they 
severally might respect and profit from. For these students their 
whole high-school education is in the truest sense general edu- 


Education in the United States 

Thus we return to the imperative need that all the courses, in- 
deed all the wider activities, of the high school be thought of as 
interdependent and equally honorable. For it is in all these courses 
and activities alike that the civilizing work of preparing for 
American life takes place. There is always a strong tendency, 
which this report will not have escaped, to think of general edu- 
cation merely as a series of specific courses, highly literate in 
character and thereby perforce appealing to the bookish. Such 
courses have their important place, but, considering the popula- 
tion as a whole, they again illustrate the selective Jeffersonian 
principle. They are for those students who can and will go ahead. 
But had the high school consisted only of such students, there 
would have been no need in the first place greatly to expand the 
curriculum. The unsolved problem, the Jacksonian task, of the 
high school is to reach students who do not read well yet are not 
skilled in hand, whose backgrounds are bad, who in cities espe- 
cially are a prey to a thousand mercenary interests the kind of 
young people who, as said, in other times would have left school 
early and found self-respect in work but who now, if they leave 
school, are simply unemployed. For them particularly, though 
for all to some extent, the whole range of the school must be 
general education sports, activities, provisions for health, op- 
portunities for avocation and part-time work, quite as much as 
courses. And a great untried realm of community and national 
work, foreshadowed in the C.C.C. and in the instructional pro- 
grams of this war, is yet to be formulated. These are the young 
people for whom experience of this kind has meant higher stand- 
ards, improved health, greater self-respect, and a wider experi- 
ence of life. Other nations have met the same problem by regi- 
menting the young even in peace. But such regimenting cannot 
safely be our solution. That solution is rather in a vision of the 
scope of the high school and of the equal dignity and importance 
of teaching in the Jacksonian and the Jeffersonian senses that is 
to say, of teaching not by books and information alone, which are 
necessarily for the brighter, but by work, guidance, and atmos- 

Finally, there is outside the school, in the movies and radio, in 


General Education in a Free Society 

adult education and the life of the community, a realm still more 
powerful for good or ill. We shall return to this subject also, in 
the last chapter. Here we merely add that the same conflicting 
forces that operate in the school system operate in this realm 
likewise. The conflict is in part between the forces making for 
unity and those making for division. Like the high-school cur- 
riculum, the movies and radio, not to speak of magazines and 
newspapers, have adapted themselves to the enormous range of 
taste and intelligence which exists in the general public, catering 
quite consciously, often quite cynically, to one or another level. 
This variety is necessary and within limits good. But, as in the 
case of the high school, it carries with it the possibility of division 
between class and class because tastes will have been so differently 
formed. It also carries the possibility of personal frustration, 
when people struggle against influences which they scarcely 
know how to escape. Doubtless wisdom has always been the fruit 
of the tree of good and evil. But one need be no soft paternalist 
to believe that never in the history of the world have vulgarity 
and debilitation beat so insistently on the mind as they now do 
from screen, radio, and newsstand. Against these the book or 
movie which speaks with authentic largeness to the whole people 
has no easy victory. 

Again, the conflict is in part between the same Jeffersonianism 
and Jacksonianism of which we have spoken. Or perhaps these 
are not the right terms in this context. We mean the conflict 
between the right of any person to create and do for his own 
profit and the right of the public to what will be to its profit. It 
is said that the public is often ahead of legislators. Certainly it is 
often ahead of what is given it for entertainment. It is no reply 
to say that entertainment is not education. The greatest periods 
of the world's art and literature have been those of expanding 
horizons when ordinary men found in the arts the model and 
revelation of their humanity. Precisely because they wear the 
warmth and color of the senses, the arts are probably the strongest 
and deepest of all educative forces. The spread of music in our 
times carries untold good, but the movies have rarely equaled 
this side of the radio's accomplishment. And however many op- 


Education in the United States 

portunities museums and libraries offer, these, like the advanced 
course or special teacher in school, are on the whole Jeffersonian, 
appealing to the naturally elect. Yet it seems clear that general 
education, as making for an enfranchisement of spirit among all 
Americans, will fail in the schools unless it extends to the com- 

Jeffersonianism and Jacksonianism 

WE pause now to draw together and generalize the points so 
far made, because, together with what will be said in the next 
chapter on the organization of knowledge, they will be recurrent 
themes in all that follows. This and the next chapter largely state 
questions; the four later chapters look to solutions. Or perhaps 
solution is too strong a word. Education, like all society's prime 
needs, changes as society changes. Yet, since the general character 
of a culture changes more slowly and human nature more slowly 
still, if at all, there exist also relatively constant elements in edu- 
cation. The most that one can do is therefore, like Long John 
Silver looking for treasure, to triangulate the major features of 
the more and the less changing. But to do so is not to find guar- 
anteed solutions: it is only to look in the direction inwhich 
they lie. 

It was said at the start that the high school's chief problem 
followed at once from its own explosive growth and from the not 
less explosive changes taking place outside it. These two cate- 
gories are not exact; certainly they are not mutually exclusive, 
and facets of the same historical and social movements appear 
under both. Yet the consequences for the school system when 
the attempt was made to realize the ideal of universal free educa- 
tion were in fact immeasurably heightened by the setting of ever- 
increased urbanization and industrialization in which the attempt 
was carried out. If related, then, these, as it were, inner and outer 
movements are distinct in themselves and have raised distinct 


General Education in a Free Society 

The first and inner movement the sheer numerical growth 
of the high school at something like thirty times the rate of the 
country at large meant that there came into it a number and 
variety of students far greater than any system had ever before 
tried to cope with. There were few or no guideposts, and when 
the traditional academic subjects proved unsuitable for vast num- 
bers of students, the curriculum was widened to include a thou- 
sand watered-down versions of these as well as a thousand new 
vocational and practical subjects. The result was, and is, a parcel- 
ing, an atomization of the curriculum which, if it reflects the 
actual variations among students, tends if anything to enhance 
them by dividing man from man in their basic preparations for 
life. This tendency has been the stronger because the mechanism 
whereby the stretching of the curriculum was carried out the 
course -unit system likewise emphasized separateness: both a 
separateness of subject from subject within the high school as a 
whole, with the resulting presumption that any combination of 
subjects makes an equally good education; and a separateness of 
course from course in any student's program, with the resulting 
danger that it lack roundedness and cohesion. The two sides of 
the problem thus stand forth clearly: on the one, a need for di- 
versity, even a greater diversity than exists at present in the still 
largely bookish curriculum, since nothing else will match the 
actual range of intelligence and background among students; and 
on the other, a need for some principle of unity, since without 
it the curriculum flies into pieces and even the studies of any one 
student are atomic or unbalanced or both. 

Jointly these opposite needs evidently point to one solution: 
a scheme of relationship between subjects which shall be similar 
for all students yet capable of being differently carried out for 
different students. Within it there must be place for both special 
and general education: for those subjects which divide man from 
man according to their particular functions and for those which 
unite man and man in their common humanity and citizenship. 
This scheme, further, should provide a continuing bond of train- 
ing and outlook not only between all members of the high school 
but also between the great majority who stop at high school and 


Education in the United States 

the minority who go on to college, such that their education 
should not differ in kind but only in degree. It is this scheme, 
like our society itself, simple in larger outline yet infinitely varied 
and complex in detail, which it is the main burden of the follow- 
ing chapters to expound. 

The second and outer movement the vast social transforma- 
tion which attended the lesser, though still great, transformation 
of the school system brought sharply forward the question, 
what is the school's peculiar function in the entirety of a young 
person's education? It is often despairingly said that the modern 
school, being expected, like Atlas, to carry the world, is thereby 
prevented from carrying on its own true work. The question 
arises out of the inherent specialism of modern and particularly of 
city life, which leaves few leisurely reaches where young people 
learn unconsciously from nature and by watching older people. 
Nature has retreated, and work is for the most part done away 
from their gaze (with exceptions, notably the mechanic in a small 
garage, admirable teacher). Hence this extension of the school's 
activity has come about less in the country than in the city 
which is not to say that country schools, for the most part poor 
and small, do not have their own serious needs, in turn involving 
the question of federal support. But in the city, well-to-do com- 
munities have in fact shown their belief that the school must find 
and furnish substitutes for what modern life takes away. ath- 
letics to replace work and the mere physical struggle for survival, 
avocations and handicrafts to replace chores and the skill of 
doing, even a small community in the school to replace the se- 
curity of church and village. There is no good in complaining 
that the school is Atlas. People will not let it cease to be such 
until more generally benign influences surround the young 
influences which, in Plato's charming words, "like a wind breath- 
ing health from sound regions, insensibly from earliest childhood 
lead them to likeness and sympathy with the life of reason." The 
question, rather, is how the school can furnish such influences to 
the poor as well as to the well-to-do. 

There are unquestionable risks in such an extension of scope, 
the elephantine growth of athletics, for instance, or, in colleges, 


General Education in a Free Society 

the strange flourishing of fraternities. You cannot, it is clear, 
gather together masses of young people and expect them all to 
behave like young Aristotles. Young people have always brought 
with them to school the unsettlements and vapors of adolescence, 
and now when nearly all go to high school the scope of these 
unsettlements is multiplied geometrically. It is one thing to have 
a relatively few students of superior gifts and stable backgrounds; 
it is another to have the present Babel of gifts and backgrounds. 
Granting, then, that it is at best not easy for the young to see 
their way through the mists of feeling, it follows that the school 
cannot hope to accomplish its proper tasks without allowing for 
and somehow harnessing these feelings. Hence the only way of 
escaping the excesses of athletics, cliques, and general anti-intel- 
lectualism these gropings, pathetic or harmful, for outlets which 
neither the community nor the school otherwise provides is to 
recognize what the school legitimately should provide. This 
recognition in turn brings one face to face with teaching in all 
its varied phases. 

It was argued earlier that the low pay of teaching could not be 
considered as something apart from the caliber and devotion of 
those who go into it, and that the one would rise only with the 
other. If the sufferings of our time have shown anything, they 
have shown that human beings are not led by economic motives 
alone but equally by visions, however distorted, of causes to be 
served. The failures of teaching are not therefore ascribable only 
to the pay, however cryingly it demands improvement, but to the 
failure of colleges, teachers' colleges, and the country as a whole 
to make of teaching the high calling that it must be. But, it was 
further argued, improvement will also depend on a sound and 
thoroughgoing democracy in the schools. We understand by 
democracy the interworking of two complementary forces, the 
Jeffersonian and the Jacksonian, the one valuing opportunity as 
the nurse of excellence, the other as the guard of equity. If, 
therefore, equal opportunity no longer lies in the curriculum 
alone but also in the wider functions which have been cast on the 
school by the conditions of modern life, the commands of de- 
mocracy extend to these as well. All are teachers, and all equally 


Education in the United States 

necessary, who give to young people through the curriculum or 
beyond it the opportunity which makes for completeness of life, 
and improvement in teaching will depend on this wider vision 
of who the teacher is. 

Are Jeffersonianism and Jacksonianism in fact complementary 
or do they struggle against each other? Much of our future will 
be written in the answer to this question. The terms are of course 
vague and relative. Thus we have criticized the school system as 
too Jeffersonian, because it gives quite different honor to aca- 
demic and technical subjects from which students go on to rela- 
tively assured futures, from any that it gives to subjects pursued 
by humbler students. The standard of our education is a strongly 
middle-class standard, which must disappoint and may embitter 
those (perhaps half of all the students in the high school) who 
find themselves cast for another role. Their good is still almost 
wholly to be discovered. On the other hand, it can equally be said 
that the high school is Jacksonian, in that it largely fails to find and 
force the able young person. And the same, as has been noted, 
applies to outer influences, radio and moving picture, which aim, 
often calculatingly, at the mass. It has been gloomily said that 
no man and no society can do two things well at the same time. 
Certainly the human tendency is so to see one goal as to forget 
the other, and writers on education have not uncommonly erred 
with this fault, setting either a standard of culture which coolly 
neglects the great mass or indulging in a flat and colorless egali- 
tarianism. But the belief that one good is purchasable always and 
only at the expense of another ultimately goes back to a belief in 
the natural right of the stronger; it runs counter both to religious 
faith and to the best experience of civilization. The hope of the 
American school system, indeed of our society, is precisely that 
it can pursue two goals simultaneously: give scope to ability and 
raise the average. Nor are these two goals so far apart, if human 
beings are capable of common sympathies. 


General Education in a Free Society 

The Search for Unity 

WE have said nothing hitherto and shall say little now about the 
college, intentionally. However much higher and secondary 
education may have in common, they differ in one decisive re- 
spect: their relationship to what can be called the body of mod- 
ern knowledge. Secondary education of course reflects this body 
of knowledge. What students learn in high school now is some- 
thing very different from what their parents learned. But the 
school's task is, after all, largely timeless. You have to acquire 
the outlooks and methods necessary for any knowledge before 
you go on to fine distinctions between today and yesterday. The 
school is a civilizing place in the fundamental sense of giving 
young people the tools on which any civilization depends. The 
college, on the other hand, stands in direct, almost mirrorlike 
relationship to the state of knowledge, responding to its move- 
ments, changing as it changes. That is not to say that the college 
does not have its own civilizing tasks to perform; it has. Yet 
these, if one can estimate such a thing, are secondary rather than 
primary. Or at least they are so intertwined with the tasks of 
learning and understanding as to be inseparable from them. 
Hence, before saying anything profitable about colleges, it is 
necessary to take the dizzy plunge into a consideration of reality 
as seen by the modern mind; which is to say, into the view of 
man and the world which emerges from modern knowledge and 
which it is the business of colleges to convey. This plunge we 
shall attempt in the next chapter. As was said at the start, the 
whole question of general education has arisen not only out of 
the expansion of the educational system and the changes of so- 
ciety but out of the accompanying headlong growth of knowl- 
edge also. 

Yet, needless to say, the college has been far from unaffected 
by the former two movements which we have traced in the 


Education in the United States 

schools. A thirty-fold growth from 1870 to 1940, though less 
than a ninetyf old, is still great, and it has brought much the same 
impulse toward variation. So much so that the word, college, 
though still probably meaning to most people the four-year lib- 
eral college, means many other types of institutions too. It means 
the agricultural college, the business college, the engineering col- 
lege, the teachers' college. At the University of Chicago it means 
the usual last two years of high school and the first two of college, 
and at junior colleges it means the latter two years only. Even 
within the six hundred and ninety or so liberal colleges through- 
out the country the span of standards and offering is very wide, 
and a further difference has tended to grow up between univer- 
sity colleges (that is, those associated with universities and more 
or less influenced by the resulting atmosphere of specialism) and 
colleges existing by themselves. Add the growth of city colleges, 
usually publicly supported, not to speak of the hive of institutions 
comprising a state university, and in spite of all the selective 
forces which come into play at the end of high school, there 
results a variety hardly less than that of the school system. Thus 
all that was said about the need, in the latter, for the binding, 
integrative working of general education to check and counter- 
balance its inevitable divisiveness applies to colleges as well. Not 
less applicable to colleges is what was said about the impossibility 
of finding one single method and substance of general education, 
even though its higher aims be agreed on. Surely there is no 
simple prescription, no one panacea equally effective for all col- 
leges, but within broad limits each must work out its way for 
itself. These limits are set by the spirit and intention of general 
education as training in what unites, rather than in what divides, 
modern man which in turn leads to the next chapter. 

Again, this growth has divided any given college against itself, 
the more so the bigger and more characteristically modern it is. 
Two distinct and far-reaching steps have given the present col- 
lege its form. The first, the so-called free elective system intro- 
duced by the authoritative figure of President Eliot in the seven- 
ties and eighties, opened finally to American students the floods 
of specialized knowledge then streaming from European univer- 


General Education in a Free Society 

sities but offered before then only to Americans who studied 
abroad. This, the first long step away from the restricted cur- 
riculum of earlier times, was entirely necessary, even inevitable. 
But the exuberance of freedom to which it led raised difficulties. 
If students could study anything that they chose within the now 
very greatly expanded curriculum, what assurance was there of 
coherence and intellectual discipline in their work? This disci- 
pline might exist, but there might be simply a careless, indiscrimi- 
nate tasting. Moved by such considerations, faculties as time 
went on increasingly hedged the student's freedom by requiring 
him to take a proportion of his work, varying in different col- 
leges, in more or less closely related subjects. He was, to be sure, 
likewise required to take work outside these subjects, but as the 
scope and importance of the main field grew, these other require- 
ments became more and more incidental. This, the so-called sys- 
tem of "concentrating" or "majoring," represents the second step. 
It is the system now in force in the great majority of American 

As was said, the main argument leading to its adoption was that 
of intellectual discipline. If liberal education, so the argument 
ran, could no longer mean knowledge of a common subject mat- 
ter, it could at least mean experience of a common method. But 
this argument has in recent times been subjected to increasing 
criticism. Not only is it very doubtful whether the intellectual 
discipline involved in all subjects, in chemistry, for instance, and 
in literature, is identical or even very similar, but students' motives 
in choosing and following any given subject have very commonly 
proved to have little or nothing to do with intellectual discipline. 
Rather, as modern life has come increasingly to rest on specialized 
knowledge, the various fields of college study have in conse- 
quence appeared simply as preparation for one or another posi- 
tion in life. They have become, in short, for many, though by no 
means for all, a kind of higher vocational training. We do not 
here intend to defend or attack this vocationalism. It has, as said, 
an obvious connection with modern life; it has perhaps an equal 
connection with a state of democracy in which the hereditary 
moneyed class is less strong and almost all young people have to 


Education in the United States 

prepare themselves to make a living. But of this more later. Our 
sole point here is that the rise of this partly, though not wholly, 
vocational specialism has tended to take from the college what 
theoretical unity it had. It is for this reason that the college was 
said above to be divided against itself. Certainly, if the various 
fields of study do not represent a common discipline or give 
anything like a common view of life, then such unity as the col- 
lege has must come chiefly from imponderable tradition or simple 

This, then, or something like this, is the present state: an enor- 
mous variety of aim and method among colleges as a whole and 
much the same variety on a smaller scale within any one college. 
This condition, which seemingly robs liberal education of any 
clear, coherent meaning, has for some time disturbed people and 
prompted a variety of solutions. Sectarian, particularly Roman 
Catholic, colleges have of course their solution, which was gen- 
erally shared by American colleges until less than a century ago: 
namely, the conviction that Christianity gives meaning and ulti- 
mate unity to all parts of the curriculum, indeed to the whole life 
of the college. Yet this solution is out of the question in publicly 
supported colleges and is practically, if not legally, impossible in 
most others. Some think it the Achilles' heel of democracy that, 
by its very nature, it cannot foster general agreement on ulti- 
mates, and perhaps must foster the contrary. But whatever one's 
views, religion is not now for most colleges a practicable source 
of intellectual unity. 

A second solution has been sought in the tradition of Western 
culture as embodied in the great writings of the European and 
American past. There seems much that is fertile in this view and 
we shall revert to it. But at first glance it appears to collide with 
two difficulties: first, the great disparity of taste and ability 
which exists even among college students (not to speak of high- 
school students, to whom, as repeatedly said, any truly valid 
scheme of unity must also extend) and, perhaps more important, 
a doubt whether the spirit of innovation and change expressing 
itself in a thousand modern forms is not itself as fundamental a 
part of Western culture as the spirit of tradition. 


General Education in a Free Society 

A third solution recognizes precisely this spirit of change. It 
centers on contemporary life, and, casting off the formal divi- 
sions of knowledge, tries to organize knowledge around actual 
problems and questions which young people may be expected to 
meet in mature life health, vocation, family, social issues, pri- 
vate standards, and the like. The difficulty here is a somewhat 
naive dismissal of the fact that a great many people have con- 
tributed over a very long time to human knowledge, which in 
consequence has a dignity, almost an austerity, calling for some 
respect. Moreover, since conditions change, what assurance is 
there that the problems which students study will resemble those 
that they will meet? In general, relevance to the present seems 
more valid as a point of view expressing a teacher's outlook and 
emphasizing the inevitable bearing of knowledge on life than it 
is as a unifying principle. 

Finally, the pragmatist solution sees in science and the scientific 
outlook this saving unity, urging that what is common to modern 
knowledge is not so much any over-all scheme as a habit of 
meeting problems in a detached, experimental, observing spirit. 
Yet, if not the philosophers of pragmatism, at least their disciples 
seem in practice, if one may put it so, not pragmatic enough. 
That is, there is always a tendency in this type of thought to 
omit as irrelevant the whole realm of belief and commitment by 
which, to all appearances, much of human activity seems in fact 
swayed. And if pragmatism be extended to include this realm of 
value, then it runs the danger of losing its scientific character. 
The question at bottom is whether the scientific attitude is in 
truth applicable to the full horizon of life, and on this question 
there is, to say the least, uncertainty. 

Thus the search continues and must continue for some over-all 
logic, some strong, not easily broken frame within which both 
college and school may fulfill their at once diversifying and 
uniting tasks. This logic must be wide enough to embrace the 
actual richness and variegation of modern life a richness partly, 
if not wholly, reflected in the complexity of our present educa- 
tional system. It must also be strong enough to give goal and 
direction to this system something much less clear at present. 


Education in the United States 

It is evidently to be looked for in the character of American 
society, a society not wholly of the new world since it came 
from the old, not wholly given to innovation since it acknowl- 
edges certain fixed beliefs, not even wholly a law unto itself since 
there are principles above the state. This logic must further em- 
body certain intangibles of the American spirit, in particular, 
perhaps, the ideal of cooperation on the level of action irrespec- 
tive of agreement on ultimates which is to say, belief in the 
worth and meaning of the human spirit, however one may under- 
stand it. Such a belief rests on that hard but very great thing, 
tolerance not from absence of standards but through possession 
of them. 



Theory of General Education 

Heritage and Change 

WE have tried so far to sketch in broad outline the growth of 
American education and to indicate the factors which have de- 
termined this growth. The very momentum of its development, 
like that which has marked American life generally, left a legacy 
of disturbance and maladjustment undreamed of in simpler times. 
A passage from Machiavelli's Discourses comes to mind in which, 
after asking why the Roman Republic showed signs of confusion 
in the period of its fastest growth, he observes that such confusion 
was inevitable in so vigorous a state. "Had the Roman Common- 
wealth/' he concludes, "grown to be more tranquil, this incon- 
venience would have resulted that it must at the same time have 
grown weaker, since the road would have been closed to that 
greatness to which it came. For in removing the causes of her 
tumults, Rome must have interfered with the causes of her 
growth." Just so in the United States, the most ideally planned 
educational system would have found itself in conflict with the 
unforeseen forces set loose by the growth and development of 
the country. But this very growth, the source of the gravest 
problems to education, is at the same time the index of its strength 
and promise. 

In order to pass judgment on the actualities of education and 
to make reasonable proposals for revising the present system, it is 
necessary to have an insight, however tentative, into the ideal 
aims of education in our society. The present chapter will ac- 
cordingly consider what can, perhaps overformally, be called a 


Theory of General Education 

philosophy of American education, and especially that part of it 
which is general education. 

It was remarked at the end of the previous chapter that a su- 
preme need of American education is for a unifying purpose and 
idea. As recently as a century ago, no doubt existed about such 
a purpose: it was to train the Christian citizen. Nor was there 
doubt how this training was to be accomplished. The student's 
logical powers were to be formed by mathematics, his taste by 
the Greek and Latin classics, his speech by rhetoric, and his ideals 
by Christian ethics. College catalogues commonly began with a 
specific statement about the influence of such a training on the 
mind and character. The reasons why this enviable certainty 
both of goal and of means has largely disappeared have already 
been set forth. For some decades the mere excitement of enlarg- 
ing the curriculum and making place for new subjects, new 
methods, and masses of new students seems quite pardonably to 
have absorbed the energies of schools and colleges. It is fashion- 
able now to criticize the leading figures of that expansive time 
for failing to replace, or even to see the need of replacing, the 
unity which they destroyed. But such criticisms, if just in them- 
selves, are hardly just historically. A great and necessary task of 
modernizing and broadening education waited to be done, and 
there is credit enough in its accomplishment. In recent times, 
however, the question of unity has become insistent. \Ve are 
faced with a diversity of education which, if it has many virtues, 
nevertheless works against the good of society by helping to de- 
stroy the common ground of training and outlook on which any 
society depends. 

It seems that a common ground between some, though not all, 
of the ideas underlying our educational practice is the sense of 
heritage. The word heritage is not here taken to mean mere 
retrospection. The purpose of all education is to help students 
live their own lives. The appeal to heritage is partly to the au- 
thority, partly to the clarification of the past about what is im- 
portant in the present. All Catholic and many Protestant institu- 
tions thus appeal to the Christian view of man and history as 
providing both final meaning and immediate standards for life. 


General Education in a Free Society 

As observed at the outset, it is less than a century since such was 
the common practice of American education generally, and cer- 
tainly this impulse to mold students to a pattern sanctioned by the 
past can, in one form or another, never be absent from education. 
If it were, society would become discontinuous. 

In this concern for heritage lies a close similarity between re- 
ligious education and education in the great classic books. Ex- 
ponents of the latter have, to be sure, described it as primarily a 
process of intellectual discipline in the joint arts of word and 
number, the so-called trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and 
quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music). But, since 
the very idea of this discipline goes back to antiquity and since 
the actual books by which it is carried out are in fact the great 
books of the Western tradition, it seems fairer, without denying 
the disciplinary value of such a curriculum, to think of it as 
primarily a process of opening before students the intellectual 
forces that have shaped the Western mind. There is a sense in 
which education in the great books can be looked at as a secular 
continuation of the spirit of Protestantism. As early Protestant- 
ism, rejecting the authority and philosophy of the medieval 
church, placed reliance on each man's personal reading of the 
Scriptures, so this present movement, rejecting the unique au- 
thority of the Scriptures, places reliance on the reading of those 
books which are taken to represent the fullest revelation of the 
Western mind. But be this as it may, it is certain that, like reli- 
gious education, education in the great books is essentially an 
introduction of students to their heritage. 

Nor is the sense of heritage less important, though it may be 
less obvious, a part of education for modern democratic life. To 
the degree that the implications of democracy are drawn forth 
and expounded, to that degree the long-standing impulse of 
education toward shaping students to a received ideal is still 
pursued. Consider the teaching of American history and of 
modern democratic life. However ostensibly factual such teach- 
ing may be, it commonly carries with it a presupposition which 
is not subject to scientific proof: namely, the presupposition that 
democracy is meaningful and right. Moreover, since contem- 

Theory of General Education 

porary life is itself a product of history, to study it is to tread 
unconsciously, in the words of the hymn, where the saints have 
trod. To know modern democracy is to know something at least 
of Jefferson, though you have not read him; to learn to respect 
freedom of speech or the rights of the private conscience is not 
to be wholly ignorant of the Areopagitica or the Antigone^ 
though you know nothing about them. Whether, as philosophers 
of history argue, being conditioned by the present we inevitably 
judge the past by what we know in the present (since otherwise 
the past would be unintelligible) or whether human motives and 
choices do not in reality greatly change with time, the fact re- 
mains that the past and the present are parts of the same unrolling 
scene and, whether you enter early or late, you see for the most 
part the still-unfinished progress of the same issues. 

Here, then, in so far as our culture is adequately reflected in 
current ideas on education, one point about it is clear: it depends 
in part on an inherited view of man and society which it is the 
function, though not the only function, of education to pass on. 
It is not and cannot be true that all possible choices are open to us 
individually or collectively. We are part of an organic process, 
which is the American and, more broadly, the Western evolution. 
Our standards of judgment, ways of life, and form of govern- 
ment all bear the marks of this evolution, which would accord- 
ingly influence us, though confusedly, even if it were not under- 
stood. Ideally it should be understood at several degrees of depth 
which complement rather than exclude each other. To study the 
American present is to discern at best the aims and purposes of a 
free society animating its imperfections. To study the past is 
immensely to enrich the meaning of the present and at the same 
time to clarify it by the simplification of the writings and the 
issues which have been winnowed from history. To study either 
past or present is to confront, in some form or another, the 
philosophic and religious fact of man in history and to recognize 
the huge continuing influence alike on past and present of the 
stream of Jewish and Greek thought in Christianity. There is 
doubtless a sense in which religious education, education in the 
great books, and education in modern democracy may be mutu- 


General Education in a Free Society 

ally exclusive. But there is a far more important sense in which 
they work together to the same end, which is belief in the idea 
of man and society that we inherit, adapt, and pass on. 

This idea is described in many ways, perhaps most commonly 
in recent times, as that of the dignity of man. To the belief in 
man's dignity must be added the recognition of his duty to his 
fellow men. Dignity does not rest on any man as a being separate 
from all other beings, which he in any case cannot be, but springs 
from his common humanity and exists positively as he makes the 
common good his own. This concept is essentially that of the 
Western tradition: the view of man as free and not as slave, an 
end in himself and not a means. It may have what many believe 
to be the limitations of humanism, which are those of pride and 
arise from making man the measure of all things. But it need not 
have these limitations, since it is equally compatible with a re- 
ligious view of life. Thus it is similar to the position described 
at the end of the last chapter as cooperation without uniformity, 
agreement on the good of man at the level of performance with- 
out the necessity of agreement on ultimates. But two points have 
now been added. First, thus stated, the goal of education is not 
in conflict with but largely includes the goals of religious educa- 
tion, education in the Western tradition, and education in modern 
democracy. For these in turn have been seen to involve neces- 
sary elements in our common tradition, each to a great extent 
implied in the others as levels at which it can be understood. 
Certainly no fruitful way of stating the belief in the dignity and 
mutual obligation of man can present it as other than, at one and 
the same time, effective in the present, emerging from the past, 
and partaking of the nature not of fact but of faith. Second, it 
has become clear that the common ground between these various 
views namely, the impulse to rear students to a received idea 
of the good is in fact necessary to education. It is impossible 
to escape the realization that our society, like any society, rests 
on common beliefs and that a major task of education is to per- 
petuate them. 

This conclusion raises one of the most fundamental problems 
of education, indeed of society itself: how to reconcile this neces- 


Theory of General Education 

sity for common belief with the equally obvious necessity for 
new and independent insights leading to change. We approach 
here the one previously mentioned concept of education which 
was not included under the idea of heritage: namely, the views 
associated with the names of James and Dewey and having to do 
with science, the scientific attitude, and pragmatism. This is 
hardly the place to try to summarize this body of thought or even 
to set forth in detail its application by Mr. Dewey to education. 
To do so would be virtually to retrace the educational con- 
troversies of the last forty years. But, at the risk of some injustice 
to Mr. Dewey's thought as a whole, a few points can be made 
about it. It puts trust in the scientific method of thought, the 
method which demands that you reach conclusions from tested 
data only, but that, since the data may be enlarged or the con- 
clusions themselves combined with still other conclusions, you 
must hold them only tentatively. It emphasizes that full truth is 
not known and that we must be forever led by facts to revise our 
approximations of it. As a feeling of commitment and of alle- 
giance marks the sense of heritage, so a tone of tough-mindedness 
and curiosity and a readiness for change mark this pragmatic 

Here, then, is a concept of education, founded on obedience 
to fact and well disposed, even hospitable, to change, which ap- 
pears at first sight the antithesis of any view based on the im- 
portance of heritage. Such hostility to tradition well reflects one 
side of the modern mind. It is impossible to contemplate the 
changes even of the last decades, much less the major groundswell 
of change since the Renaissance, without feeling that we face 
largely new conditions which call for new qualities of mind and 
outlook. Moreover, it is obviously no accident that this prag- 
matic philosophy has been worked out most fully in the United 
States. Yet, in spite of its seeming conflict with views of educa- 
tion based on heritage, strong doubt exists whether the question- 
ing, innovating, experimental attitude of pragmatism is in fact 
something alien to the Western heritage or whether it is not, in 
the broadest sense of the word, a part of it. 

The rest of the present volume would hardly suffice for this 


General Education in a Free Society 

sweeping subject. But it can be observed even here that we look 
back on antiquity not simply out of curiosity but because ancient 
thought is sympathetic to us. The Greek idea of an orderly 
universe, of political freedom under rationally constructed laws, 
and of the inner life itself as subject to the sway of reason, was 
certainly not achieved without skepticism, observation, or the 
test of experience. The ancient atomists and medical writers and, 
to a large extent, Socrates himself relied precisely on induction 
from observed facts. Socrates, the teacher and the gadfly of the 
Athenian city, impressed on his pupils and the public at large the 
duty of man to reflect on his beliefs and to criticize his presup- 
positions. Socrates was an individualist proclaiming that man 
should form his opinions by his own reasoning and not receive 
them by social indoctrination. And yet, it was this same Socrates 
who died in obedience to the judgment of the state, even though 
he believed this judgment to be wrong. Again, historical Chris- 
tianity has been expressly and consistently concerned with the 
importance of this life on earth. The doctrine of the Incarnation, 
that God took the form of man and inhabited the earth, declares 
this concern. While perhaps for Greek thought, only the time- 
less realm had importance, in Christian thought the process of 
history is vested with absolute significance. If the ideal of de- 
mocracy was rightly described above in the interwoven ideas of 
the dignity of man (that is, his existence as an independent moral 
agent) and his duty to his fellow men (that is, his testing by out- 
ward performance), the debt of these two ideas to the similarly 
interwoven commandments of the love of God and the love of 
neighbor is obvious. 

These evidences of a consistent and characteristic appeal 
throughout Western history to the test of reason and experience 
are not adduced for the purpose of minimizing the huge cre- 
ativeness of the modern scientific age or of glozing over its actual 
break from the past. In the well-known opening chapters of his 
Science and the Modern World in which he inquires into the 
origin of modern science, Mr. Whitehead pictures it as inspired 
by a revolt against abstract reasoning and a respect for unique 
fact. So considered, the first impulse of modern science was 


Theory of General Education 

antirational or, better, antitheoretical, in the sense that it was a 
reaction against the most towering intellectual system which the 
West has known, namely, scholasticism. But be this question of 
origin as it may, there is no doubt that the modern mind received 
one of its characteristic bents in the empiricism, the passion for 
observation, and the distrust of abstract reasoning which have 
attended the origin and growth of science. 

But there also seems no doubt that what happened was a shift, 
perhaps to some degree a restoration, of emphasis within the 
Western tradition itself rather than a complete change in its 
nature. It is a mistake to identify the older Western culture with 
traditionalism. Classical antiquity handed on a working system 
of truth which relied on both reason and experience and was 
designed to provide a norm for civilized life. Its import was 
heightened and vastly intensified by its confluence with Chris- 
tianity. But when, in its rigid systematization in the late Middle 
Ages, it lost touch with experience and individual inquiry, it 
violated its own nature and provoked the modernist revolt. The 
seeming opposition that resulted between traditionalism and 
modernism has been a tragedy for Western thought. Modernism 
rightly affirms the importance of inquiry and of relevance to 
experience. But as scholasticism ran the danger of becoming a 
system without vitality, so modernism runs the danger of achiev- 
ing vitality without pattern. 

While, then, there are discontinuities between the classical and 
the modern components of our Western culture, there are also 
continuities. For instance, it would be wrong to construe the 
scientific outlook as inimical to human values. Even if it were 
true that science is concerned with means only, it would not 
follow that science ignores the intrinsic worth of man. For the 
values of human life cannot be achieved within a physical 
vacuum; they require for their fulfillment the existence of ma- 
terial conditions. To the extent that classical civilization failed 
to mitigate the evils of poverty, disease, squalor, and a generally 
low level of living among the masses, to that extent it failed to 
liberate man. Conversely, to the extent that science, especially 
in its medical and technological applications, has succeeded in 


General Education in a Free Society 

dealing with these evils, it has contributed to the realization of 
human values. Thus science has implemented the humanism 
which classicism and Christianity have proclaimed. 

Science has done more than provide the material basis of the 
good life; it has directly fostered the spiritual values of human- 
ism. To explain, science is both the outcome and the source of 
the habit of forming objective, disinterested judgments based 
upon exact evidence. Such a habit is of particular value in the 
formation of citizens for a free society. It opposes to the arbi- 
trariness of authority and "first principles" the direct and con- 
tinuing appeal to things as they are. Thus it develops the qualities 
of the free man. It is no accident that John Locke, who set forth 
the political doctrine of the natural rights of man against estab- 
lished authority, should have been also the man who rejected the 
authority of innate ideas. 

Students of antiquity and of the Middle Ages can therefore 
rightly affirm that decisive truths about the human mind and its 
relation to the world were laid hold of then, and yet agree that, 
when new application of these truths was made through a more 
scrupulous attention to fact, their whole implication and meaning 
were immensely enlarged. Modern civilization has seen this en- 
largement of meaning and possibility; yet it is not a new civiliza- 
tion but the organic development of an earlier civilization. The 
true task of education is therefore so to reconcile the sense of 
pattern and direction deriving from heritage with the sense of 
experiment and innovation deriving from science that they may 
exist fruitfully together, as in varying degrees they have never 
ceased to do throughout Western history. 

Belief in the dignity and mutual obligation of man is the com- 
mon ground between these contrasting but mutually necessary 
forces in our culture. As was pointed out earlier, this belief is 
the fruit at once of religion, of the Western tradition, and of the 
American tradition. It equally inspires the faith in human reason 
which is the basis for trust in the future of democracy. And if it 
is not, strictly speaking, implied in all statements of the scientific 
method, there is no doubt that science has become its powerful 
instrument. In this tension between the opposite forces of herit- 


Theory of General Education 

age and change poised only in the faith in man, lies something 
like the old philosophic problem of the knowledge of the good. 
If you know the good, why do you seek it? If you are ignorant 
of the good, how do you recognize it when you find it? You 
must evidently at one and the same time both know it and be 
ignorant of it. Just so, the tradition which has come down to us 
regarding the nature of man and the good society must inevitably 
provide our standard of good. Yet an axiom of that tradition 
itself is the belief that no current form of the received ideal is 
final but that every generation, indeed every individual, must 
discover it in a fresh form. Education can therefore be wholly 
devoted neither to tradition nor to experiment, neither to the be- 
lief that the ideal in itself is enough nor to the view that means are 
valuable apart from the ideal. It must uphold at the same time 
tradition and experiment, the ideal and the means, subserving, 
like our culture itself, change within commitment. 

General and Special Education 

IN the previous section we have attempted to outline the unify- 
ing elements of our culture and therefore of American education 
as well. In the present section we shall take the next step of in- 
dicating in what ways these cultural strands may be woven into 
the fabric of education. Education is broadly divided into gen- 
eral and special education; our topic now is the difference and 
the relationship between the two. The term, general education, 
is somewhat vague and colorless; it does not mean some airy 
education in knowledge in general (if there be such knowledge), 
nor does it mean education for all in the sense of universal educa- 
tion. It is used to indicate that part of a student's whole educa- 
tion which looks first of all to his life as a responsible human being 
and citizen; while the term, special education, indicates that part 
which looks to the student's competence in some occupation. 
These two sides of life are not entirely separable, and it would 


General Education in a Free Society 

be false to imagine education for the one as quite distinct from 
education for the other more will be said on this point pres- 
ently. Clearly, general education has somewhat the meaning of 
liberal education, except that, by applying to high school as well 
as to college, it envisages immensely greater numbers of students 
and thus escapes the invidium which, rightly or wrongly, attaches 
to liberal education in the minds of some people. But if one 
cling to the root meaning of liberal as that which befits or helps 
to make free men, then general and liberal education have iden- 
tical goals. The one may be thought of as an earlier stage of the 
other, similar in nature but less advanced in degree. 

The opposition to liberal education both to the phrase and 
to the fact stems largely from historical causes. The concept 
of liberal education first appeared in a slave-owning society, like 
that of Athens, in which the community was divided into free- 
men and slaves, rulers and subjects. While the slaves carried on 
the specialized occupations of menial work, the freemen were 
primarily concerned with the rights and duties of citizenship. 
The training of the former was purely vocational; but as the free- 
men were not only a ruling but also a leisure class, their education 
was exclusively in the liberal arts, without any utilitarian tinge. 
The freemen were trained in the reflective pursuit of the good 
life; their education was unspecialized as well as unvocational; its 
aim was to produce a rounded person with a full understanding 
of himself and of his place in society and in the cosmos. 

Modern democratic society clearly does not regard labor as 
odious or disgraceful; on the contrary, in this country at least, it 
regards leisure with suspicion and expects its "gentlemen" to en- 
gage in work. Thus we attach no odium to vocational instruc- 
tion. Moreover, in so far as we surely reject the idea of freemen 
who are free in so far as they have slaves or subjects, we are apt 
strongly to deprecate the liberal education which went with the 
structure of the aristocratic ideal. Herein our society runs the 
risk of committing a serious fallacy. Democracy is the view that 
not only the few but that all are free, in that everyone governs 
his own life and shares in the responsibility for the management 
of the community. This being the case, it follows that all human 


Theory of General Education 

beings stand in need of an ampler and rounded education. The 
task of modern democracy is to preserve the ancient ideal of 
liberal education and to extend it as far as possible to all the mem- 
bers of the community. In short, we have been apt to confuse 
accidental with fundamental factors, in our suspicion of the 
classical ideal. To believe in the equality of human beings is to 
believe that the good life, and the education which trains the 
citizen for the good life, are equally the privilege of all. And 
these are the touchstones of the liberated man: first, is he free; 
that is to say, is he able to judge and plan for himself, so that he 
can truly govern himself? In order to do this, his must be a mind 
capable of self-criticism; he must lead that self-examined life 
which according to Socrates is alone worthy of a free man. Thus 
he will possess inner freedom, as well as social freedom. Second, 
is he universal in his motives and sympathies? For the civilized 
man is a citizen of the entire universe; he has overcome provin- 
cialism, he is objective, and is a Spectator of all time and all 
existence." Surely these two are the very aims of democracy 

But the opposition to general education does not stem from 
causes located in the past alone. We are living in an age of spe- 
cialism, in which the avenue to success for the student often lies 
in his choice of a specialized career, whether as a chemist, or an 
engineer, or a doctor, or a specialist in some form of business or 
of manual or technical work. Each of these specialties makes an 
increasing demand on the time and on the interest of the student. 
Specialism is the means for advancement in our mobile social 
structure; yet we must envisage the fact that a society controlled 
wholly by specialists is not a wisely ordered society. We cannot, 
however, turn away from specialism. The problem is how to 
save general education and its values within a system where spe- 
cialism is necessary. 

The very prevalence and power of the demand for special 
training makes doubly clear the need for a concurrent, balancing 
force in general education. Specialism enhances the centrifugal 
forces in society. The business of providing for the needs of 
society breeds a great diversity of special occupations; and a 


General Education in a Free Society 

given specialist does not speak the language of the other spe- 
cialists. In order to discharge his duties as a citizen adequately, a 
person must somehow be able to grasp the complexities of life as 
a whole. Even from the point of view of economic success, 
specialism has its peculiar limitations. Specializing in a vocation 
makes for inflexibility in a world of fluid possibilities. Business 
demands minds capable of adjusting themselves to varying situa- 
tions and of managing complex human institutions. Given the 
pace of economic progress, techniques alter speedily; and even 
the work in which the student has been trained may no longer be 
useful when he is ready to earn a living or soon after. Our con- 
clusion, then, is that the aim of education should be to prepare 
an individual to become an expert both in some particular voca- 
tion or art and in the general art of the free man and the citizen. 
Thus the two kinds of education once given separately to differ- 
ent social classes must be given together to all alike. 

In this epoch in which almost all of us must be experts in some 
field in order to make a living, general education therefore as- 
sumes a peculiar importance. Since no one can become an expert 
in all fields, everyone is compelled to trust the judgment of other 
people pretty thoroughly in most areas of activity. I must trust 
the advice of my doctor, my plumber, my lawyer, my radio re- 
pairman, and so on. Therefore I am in peculiar need of a kind of 
sagacity by which to distinguish the expert from the quack, and 
the better from the worse expert. From this point of view, the 
aim of general education may be defined as that of providing the 
broad critical sense by which to recognize competence in any 
field. William James said that an educated person knows a good 
man when he sees one. There are standards and a style for every 
type of activity manual, athletic, intellectual, or artistic; and 
the educated man should be one who can tell sound from shoddy 
work in a field outside his own. General education is especially 
required in a democracy where the public elects its leaders and 
officials; the ordinary citizen must be discerning enough so that 
he will not be deceived by appearances and will elect the candi- 
date who is wise in his field. 

Both kinds of education special as well as general con- 


Theory of General Education 

tribute to the task of implementing the pervasive forces of our 
culture. Here we revert to what was said at the start of this 
chapter on the aims of education in our society. It was argued 
there that two complementary forces are at the root of our cul- 
ture: on the one hand, an ideal of man and society distilled from 
the past but at the same time transcending the past as a standard 
of judgment valid in itself, and, on the other hand, the belief that 
no existent expressions of this ideal are final but that all alike call 
for perpetual scrutiny and change in the light of new knowledge. 
Specialism is usually the vehicle of this second force. It fosters 
the open-mindedness and love of investigation which are the 
wellspring of change, and it devotes itself to the means by which 
change is brought about. The fact may not always be obvious. 
There is a sterile specialism which hugs accepted knowledge and 
ends in the bleakest conservatism. Modern life also calls for 
many skills which, though specialized, are repetitive and certainly 
do not conduce to inquiry. These minister to change but uncon- 
sciously. Nevertheless, the previous statement is true in the sense 
that specialism is concerned primarily with knowledge in action, 
as it advances into new fields and into further applications. 

Special education comprises a wider field than vocationalism; 
and correspondingly, general education extends beyond the limits 
of merely literary preoccupation. An example will make our 
point clearer. A scholar let us say a scientist (whether student 
or teacher) will, in the laudable aim of saving himself from 
narrowness, take a course in English literature, or perhaps read 
poetry and novels, or perhaps listen to good music and generally 
occupy himself with the fine arts. All this, while eminently fine 
and good, reveals a misapprehension. In his altogether unjustified 
humility, the scientist wrongly interprets the distinction between 
liberal and illiberal in terms of the distinction between the hu- 
manities and the sciences. Plato and Cicero would have been 
very much surprised to hear that geometry, astronomy, and the 
sciences of nature in general, are excluded from the humanities. 
There is also implied a more serious contempt for the liberal arts, 
harking back to the fallacy which identifies liberal education with 
the aristocratic ideal. The implication is that liberal education is 


General Education in a Free Society 

something only genteel. A similar error is evident in the student's 
attitude toward his required courses outside his major field as 
something to "get over with/' so that he may engage in the busi- 
ness of serious education, identified in his mind with the field of 

Now, a general education is distinguished from special educa- 
tion, not by subject matter, but in terms of method and outlook, 
no matter what the field. Literature, when studied in a technical 
fashion, gives rise to the special science of philology; there is also 
the highly specialized historical approach to painting. Specialism 
is interchangeable, not with natural science, but with the method 
of science, the method which abstracts material from its context 
and handles it in complete isolation. The reward of scientific 
method is the utmost degree of precision and exactness. But, as 
we have seen, specialism as an educational force has its own 
limitations; it does not usually provide an insight into general 

A further point is worth noting. The impact of specialism has 
been felt not only in those phases of education which are neces- 
sarily and rightly specialistic; it has affected also the whole 
structure of higher and even of secondary education. Teachers, 
themselves products of highly technical disciplines, tend to re- 
produce their knowledge in class. The result is that each subject, 
being taught by an expert, tends to be so presented as to attract 
potential experts. This complaint is perhaps more keenly felt in 
colleges and universities, which naturally look to scholarship. The 
undergraduate in a college receives his teaching from professors 
who, in their turn, have been trained in graduate schools. And 
the latter are dominated by the ideal of specialization. Learning 
now is diversified and parceled into a myriad of specialties. Cor- 
respondingly, colleges and universities are divided into large 
numbers of departments, with further specialization within the 
departments. As a result, a student in search of a general course 
is commonly frustrated. Even an elementary course is devised 
as an introduction to a specialism within a department; it is sig- 
nificant only as the beginning of a series of courses of advancing 
complexity. In short, such introductory courses are planned for 


Theory of General Education 

the specialist, not for the student seeking a general education. 
The young chemist in the course in literature and the young 
writer in the course in chemistry find themselves in thoroughly 
uncomfortable positions so long as the purpose of these courses 
is primarily to train experts who will go on to higher courses 
rather than to give some basic understanding of science as it is 
revealed in chemistry or of the arts as they are revealed in 

It is most unfortunate if we envisage general education as 
something formless that is to say, the taking of one course after 
another; and as something negative, namely, the study of what is 
not in a field of concentration. Just as we regard the courses in 
concentration as having definite relations to one another, so 
should we envisage general education as an organic whole whose 
parts join in expounding a ruling idea and in serving a common 
aim. And to do so means to abandon the view that all fields and 
all departments are equally valuable vehicles of general educa- 
tion. It also implies some prescription. At the least it means 
abandoning the usual attitude of regarding "distribution" as a 
sphere in which the student exercises a virtually untrammeled 
freedom of choice. It may be objected that we are proposing to 
limit the liberty of the student in the very name of liberal educa- 
tion. Such an objection would only indicate an ambiguity in the 
conception of liberal education. We must distinguish between 
liberalism in education and education in liberalism. The former, 
based as it is on the doctrine of individualism, expresses the view 
that the student should be free in his choice of courses. But edu- 
cation in liberalism is an altogether different matter; it is educa- 
tion which has a pattern of its own, namely, the pattern associated 
with the liberal outlook. In this view, there are truths which 
none can be free to ignore, if one is to have that wisdom through 
which life can become useful. These are the truths concerning 
the structure of the good life and concerning the factual condi- 
tions by which it may be achieved, truths comprising the goals 
of the free society. 

Finally, the problem of general education is one of combining 
fixity of aim with diversity in application. It is not a question of 


General Education in a Free Society 

providing a general education which will be uniform through the 
same classes of all schools and colleges all over the country, even 
were such a thing possible in our decentralized system. It is 
rather to adapt general education to the needs and intentions of 
different groups and, so far as possible, to carry its spirit into 
special education. The effectiveness of teaching has always 
largely depended on this willingness to adapt a central unvarying 
purpose to varying outlooks. Such adaptation is as much in the 
interest of the quick as of the slow, of the bookish as of the un- 
bookish, and is the necessary protection of each. What is wanted, 
then, is a general education capable at once of taking on many 
different forms and yet of representing in all its forms the com- 
mon knowledge and the common values on which a free society 

Areas of Knowledge 

WE have gradually moved from the less to the more specific, 
until now we have reached the topic of actual outcomes of edu- 
cation. In this section we shall deal with general education only; 
and our question will take two forms: what characteristics (traits 
of mind and character) are necessary for anything like a full and 
responsible life in our society; and, by what elements of knowl- 
edge are such traits nourished? These two questions, these two 
aspects, are images of each other. We have repeatedly found 
ourselves until now describing general education, at one time, as 
looking to the good of man in society and, at another time, as 
dictated by the nature of knowledge itself. There is no escape 
from thus shifting from one face of the same truth to the other. 
But temporarily and for the sake of clarity it may be useful to 
separate the two questions and consider first the elements of 
knowledge, and later the characteristics. 

Tradition points to a separation of learning into the three 
areas of natural science, social studies, and the humanities. The 


Theory of General Education 

study of the natural sciences looks to an understanding of our 
physical environment, so that we may have a suitable relation to 
it. The study of the social sciences is intended to produce an 
understanding of our social environment and of human institu- 
tions in general, so that the student may achieve a proper rela- 
tion to society not only the local but also the great society, 
and, by the aid of history, the society of the past and even of the 
future. Finally, the purpose of the humanities is to enable man 
to understand man in relation to himself, that is to say, in his 
inner aspirations and ideals. 

While all this is obvious and even trite, it is hardly adequate. 
Subject matters do not lend themselves to such neat distinctions. 
To consider only one example, psychology, which has been clas- 
sified as a natural science in the above list, surely has, or ought to 
have, something to say about human nature. A more serious 
flaw of this classification is that it conceives of education as the 
act of getting acquainted with something, and so as the acquiring 
of information. But information is inert knowledge. Yet, given 
this limitation, such an approach has its merits because it directs 
the student's attention to the useful truth that man must familiar- 
ize himself with the environment in which nature has placed 
him if he is to proceed realistically with the task of achieving the 
good life. 

A much better justification of the way in which the areas of 
learning are divided is in terms of methods of knowledge. Let us 
start with the difference between the natural sciences and the 
humanities. The former describe, analyze, and explain; the latter 
appraise, judge, and criticize. In the first, a statement is judged 
as true or false; in the second, a result is judged as good or bad. 
The natural sciences do not take it on themselves to evaluate the 
worth of what they describe. The chemist is content to state the 
actual structure of his compound without either praising or de- 
ploring the fact. Natural science measures what can be measured, 
and it operates upon its materials with the instruments of formal 
logic and mathematics. Yet these latter are not themselves science 
or even the final arbiters of science. Science serves a harsher 
master the brute facts of physical reality. Logic and mathe- 


General Education in a Free Society 

matics are triumphs of abstraction. These are the media by which 
a scientific argument is pursued. But when the argument has 
by these means yielded a solution, this in turn must meet the 
question, u is it real?" "is it true?" By this final appeal to 
things as they are, or as they appear to be, the argument stands 
or falls. 

In contrast to mathematics and the natural sciences, the human- 
ities explore and exhibit the realm of value. For example, in 
literature the student is presented with various ways of life, with 
the tragic and the heroic outlook, or with the merely pathetic 
and ridiculous. His imagination is stirred with vivid evocations 
of ideals of action, passion, and thought, among which he may 
learn to discriminate. The intelligent teacher will explore the 
great arts and literatures in order to bring out the ideals toward 
which man has been groping, confusedly yet stubbornly. And 
of course the arts have done as much through form as through 
content; they disclose varying standards of taste. 

Although techniques have been developed for the study of 
natural phenomena, no comparable progress has been made in our 
insight into values. We can measure a physical body, but we 
cannot measure an ideal, nor can we put critical standards under 
a microscope so as to note all their elements with precision. 
Science aims at precision and gets it. This is true, partly because 
science will not bother itself with facts when these do not lend 
themselves to the methods of exact observation. It limits itself 
to events that recur and to things which permit measurement. 
To the extent that an object is truly unique and occurs only 
once it is not the stuff of science. For example, every society is 
to a degree unique; hence the student of social phenomena is still 
baffled in his search for strict uniformities. 

To admit that a difference exists between the methods of 
science and our insight into values is one thing; to go on from 
there and assert that values are wholly arbitrary is a different and 
wholly unjustified conclusion. It has been thought that, since 
the words right and wrong as applied to ethical situations do not 
have the same meaning as right and wrong when applied to 
mathematical propositions, no rational criteria are involved; and 

Theory of General Education 

that one is at liberty to choose any set of standards more or less 
from the air and apply them to the problems which come to 
hand. Or by way of reaction some persons have gone to the 
opposite extreme of setting up fixed dogmas and imposing them 
by sheer authority. But standards are the reflection neither of 
personal whims nor of dogmatic attitudes. In the realm of values, 
critical analysis of complex situations is possible by rational 
methods and in the light of what other men have thought upon 
such matters. Here we return to what was said earlier in this 
chapter about the twin contribution of heritage and innovation 
to human beliefs. Starting with a few premises, for instance with 
those involved in our commitment to a free society, the mind 
can proceed to analyze the implications of these premises and 
also to modify their initial meaning by the aid of experience. 
While there can be no experimenting with ideals, there is ex- 
perience of values in application, and there is heaping up of such 
experience. While there can be no precise measurement, there is 
intelligent analysis of codes and standards. While there are no 
simple uniformities, there are moral principles which command 
the assent of civilized men. Of all this more presently; our con- 
clusion is that value-judgments are, or at least can be, rational in 
so far as they are informed and disciplined; they are communi- 
cable and can become matters of intelligent discussion and 

Finally, on this basis the social studies may be said to combine 
the methods of the natural sciences and of the humanities, and to 
use both explanation and evaluation. For instance, the historian 
is obviously concerned with facts and events and with the causal 
relations between happenings; yet he is no less concerned with 
values. A historical fact is not merely a fact: it is a victory or a 
defeat, an indication of progress or of retrogression, it is a mis- 
fortune or good fortune. We do not mean by this that a his- 
torian passes moral judgments on events and nations. We do 
mean that a historian is selective; that out of the infinity of 
events he chooses those that have a bearing on man's destiny. A 
similar situation is disclosed in economics, which is a judicious 
mixture, not always acknowledged or even realized, of factual 


General Education in a Free Society 

objective study and normative judgment. The classical, if not 
the contemporary, economist is engaged on the one hand in a 
description and analysis of this or that economic institution, and 
on the other hand with a criticism of what he describes and 
analyzes in the light of the norm of a sound economy. From this 
point of view the object of philosophy would appear to be the 
bringing together of both facts and values. Philosophy asks the 
question: what is the place of human aspirations and ideals in the 
total scheme of things? 

The method of science can be set off against the method of 
social studies and humanities taken together in the following way. 
In science, new findings are constantly being made in such a 
way that the sum of these findings constitutes the current view 
of truth. Science is knowledge for which an exact standard of. 
truth exists; as a result, within any particular present there is 
common agreement about what is scientific truth; or if the agree- 
ment is lacking there are determinate criteria commonly agreed 
upon, by the application of which the issue can be settled. But 
in the other two fields there is often no common agreement as to 
what is valid within any given present; there is diversity of 
schools and doctrines, the reason being that a standard of exact 
truth or exact Tightness is lacking. In the sciences, thought is 
progressive; the later stage corrects the earlier and includes the 
truth of the earlier. Were Galileo able to return to the land of 
the living, who doubts that he would regard later changes in 
physical theory as an improvement on his own? In consequence, 
the history of its thought is strictly irrelevant to science. But it 
is impossible to say with the same assurance that our philosophy 
or art, though presumably better than the cave man's, is better 
than that of the Greeks or of the men of the Renaissance. The 
work of any genius in art or philosophy or literature represents 
in some sense a complete and absolute vision. Goethe does not 
render Sophocles obsolete, nor does Descartes supersede Plato. 
The geniuses that follow do not so much correct preceding in- 
sights as they supply alternative but similarly simple and total 
insights from new perspectives. For this reason historical knowl- 
edge has a special importance in philosophy, and the achieve- 


Theory of General Education 

ments of the past have a significance for the arts and literature 
which is certainly not true of science. 

At this point the impatient reader will interject that the dis- 
tinctions which we have made do not really distinguish. We 
have said that literature exhibits life as it might be; yet is it not a 
fact that literature also depicts life as it is? We have said that 
economics is concerned with norms as well as actualities; yet 
surely mathematical economics is an analytical study and nothing 
else. And conversely, the reader may add, it is false that science 
is wholly restricted to the techniques of measurement. The very 
method of science, the way in which it defines a fact and its 
essential presuppositions, is not subject to scientific proof. All 
this we admit without reservation. The distinctions we have 
made are rough and inexact; the total area of learning is more 
like a spectrum along which the diverse modes of thought are 
combined in varying degrees, approximating to purity only at 
the extreme ends. 

Nevertheless, these distinctions retain their importance at 
least for pragmatic, that is, educational reasons. If it is true that 
in questions of government the words right and wrong, true and 
false, lack the exactitude which they have in questions of mathe- 
matics, the fact must be of the essence of teaching government 
and history. Clearly, education will not look solely to the giving 
of information. Information is of course the basis of any knowl- 
edge, but if both the nature of truth and the methods of asserting 
it differ as between the areas, the fact must be made fully ap- 
parent. As Mr. Whitehead has said, a student should not be 
taught more than he can think about. Selection is the essence of 
teaching. Even the most compendious survey is only the rudest 
culling from reality. Since the problem of choice can under no 
circumstances be avoided, the problem becomes what, rather than 
how much, to teach; or better, what principles and methods to 
illustrate by the use of information. The same conflict between 
the factual aspects of a subject and the need of insight into the 
kind of truth with which it deals arises in an acute form in that 
most factual of disciplines, natural science itself. While a heaping 
up of information is peculiarly necessary in the teaching of 


General Education in a Free Society 

icience, information is not enough. Facts must be so chosen as to 
:onvey not only something of the substance of science but, also 
md above all, of its methods, its characteristic achievements, and 
ts limitations. To the extent that a student becomes aware of 
:he methods he is using, and critically conscious of his presuppo- 
;itions, he learns to transcend his specialty and generates a liberal 
outlook in himself. 

Traits of Mind 

the time of his examination the average student hardly 
remembers more than 75 per cent of what he was taught. If he 
were a sophomore when he took the course, how much does he 
recall by the time of his graduation, how much five years later, 
how much, or how little, when he returns on his twenty-fifth 
reunion? Pondering on all this, the pessimist might well conclude 
that education is a wholly wasteful process. He would of course 
be wrong, for the simple reason that education is not a process of 
stuffing the mind with facts. Yet he would be partly right be- 
cause the student soon forgets not only many facts but even 
some general ideas and principles. No doubt we are exaggerating. 
Those students particularly who have been able to unite what 
they learned in school or college with later studies or with their 
jobs do retain a surprising amount of information. Nevertheless, 
the real answer to the pessimist is that education is not merely the 
imparting of knowledge but the cultivation of certain aptitudes 
and attitudes in the mind of the young. As we have said earlier, 
education looks both to the nature of knowledge and to the good 
of man in society. It is to the latter aspect that we shall now 
turn our attention more particularly to the traits and charac- 
teristics of mind fostered by education. 

By characteristics we mean aims so important as to prescribe 
how general education should be carried out and which abilities 
should be sought above all others in every part of it. These 


Theory of General Education 

abilities, in our opinion, are: to think effectively, to communicate 
thought, to make relevant judgments, to discriminate among 
values. They are not in practice separable and are not to be 
developed in isolation. Nor can they be even analyzed in separa- 
tion. Each is an indispensable coexistent function of a sanely 
growing mind. Nonetheless, since exposition requires that one 
thing be discussed at one time, our description of these abilities 
must take them up in turn. 

By effective thinking we mean, in the first place, logical think- 
ing: the ability to draw sound conclusions from premises. Yet 
by logical thinking we do not mean the equipment of the special- 
ist or what a student would learn by taking a course in formal 
logic. We are concerned with the student who is going to be a 
worker, or a businessman, or a professional man, and who does 
not necessarily look forward to a career in scholarship or in pure 
science. As a plain citizen he will practice his logical skills in 
practical situations in choosing a career, in deciding whom to 
vote for, or what house to buy, or even in choosing a wife. But 
perhaps the last case is just the point where logical skills fail, 
although European parents might disagree. 

Logical thinking is the capacity to extract universal truths 
from particular cases and, in turn, to infer particulars from gen- 
eral laws. More strictly, it is the ability to discern a pattern of 
relationships on the one hand to analyze a problem into its 
component elements, and on the other to recombine these, often 
by the use of imaginative insight, so as to reach a solution. Its 
prototype is mathematics which, starting with a few selected 
postulates, makes exact deductions with certainty. Logical think- 
ing is involved to a degree in the analysis of the structure of a 
painting as well as in that of a geometrical system. In moving 
toward a solution, the trained mind will have a sharp eye for the 
relevant factors while zealously excluding all that is irrelevant; 
and it will arrange the relevant factors according to weight. For 
instance, in voting during a presidential election our citizen 
should consider whether the candidate has sound policies, 
whether he has the ability to get on with Congress, whether he 
has a good grasp of international relations, and, in these troubled 


General Education in a Free Society 

times, whether he has an understanding of military strategy. 
These are some of the factors which are relevant to the problem 
in hand. But the looks of the candidate most probably, and his 
religious denomination surely, are irrelevant. Prejudice brings in 
irrelevancies and logic should keep them out. 

Effective thinking, while starting with logic, goes further so 
as to include certain broad mental skills. Thus an effective 
thinker is a man who can handle terms and concepts with skill 
and yet does not confuse words with things; he is empirical in 
the widest sense of the word, looking outward to nature. He is 
not satisfied merely with noting the facts, but his mind ever soars 
to implications. He knows when he knows and when he does 
not; he does not mistake opinion for knowledge. Furthermore, 
effective thinking includes the understanding of complex and 
fluid situations, in dealing with which logical methods are inade- 
quate as mental tools. Of course thinking must never violate the 
laws of logic, but it may use techniques beyond those of exact 
mathematical reasoning. In the fields of the social studies and 
history, and in the problems of daily life, there are large areas 
where evidence is incomplete and may never be completed. 
Sometimes the evidence may be also untrustworthy; but, if the 
situation is practical, a decision must be made. The scientist has 
been habituated to deal with properties which can be abstracted 
from their total background and with variables which are few 
and well defined. Consequently, where the facts are unique and 
unpredictable, where the variables are numerous and their inter- 
actions too complicated for precise calculation, the scientist is 
apt to throw up his hands in despair and perhaps turn the situa- 
tion over to the sentimentalist or the mystic. But surely he would 
be wrong in so doing; for the methods of logical thinking do not 
exhaust the resources of reason. In coping with complex and 
fluid situations we need thinking which is relational and which 
searches for cross bearings between areas; this is thinking in a 
context. By its use it is possible to reach an understanding of 
historical and social materials and of human relations, although 
not with the same degree of precision as in the case of simpler 
materials and of recurring events. As Aristotle says, "It is the 


Theory of General Education 

mark of an educated man to expect no more exactness than the 
subject permits." 

A further element in effective thinking is the imagination, by 
which we mean whatever is distinctive in the thinking of the 
poet. Logical thinking is straight, as opposed to crooked, think- 
ing; and that of the poet may be described as curved thinking. 
Where the scientist operates with abstract conceptions the poet 
employs sensuous images; imagination is the faculty of thinking 
in terms of concrete ideas and symbols. Instead of reading a 
prosaic analysis of exuberant vitality, we may get a direct vision 
of it in Manet's portrait of the boy with the flute. We may 
study human nature in the psychologist's abstract accounts of it, 
or we may see it in the vivid presentations of imagined individu- 
als like Othello, Becky Sharp, Ulysses, and Anna Karenina. The 
reader might demur that imagination has little to do with effec- 
tive thinking. Yet the imagination is most valuable in the field 
of human relations. Statistics are useful, but statistics alone will 
not carry us very far in the understanding of human beings. We 
need an imagination delicately sensitive to the hopes and the 
fears, the qualities and the flaws of our fellow man, and which 
can evoke a total personality in its concrete fullness. In practical 
matters, imagination supplies the ability to break with habit and 
routine, to see beyond the obvious and to envisage new alter- 
natives; it is the spur of the inventor and the revolutionary, no 
less than of the artist. 

It may be noted that the three phases of effective thinking, 
logical, relational, and imaginative, correspond roughly to the 
three divisions of learning, the natural sciences, the social stud- 
ies, and the humanities, respectively. 

Communication the ability to express oneself so as to be 
understood by others is obviously inseparable from effective 
thinking. In most thinking, one is talking to oneself; and 
good speech and writing are the visible test and sign of good 
thinking. Conversely, to speak clearly one must have clear ideas. 
You cannot say something unless you have something to say; 
but in order to express your ideas properly you also need some 
skill in communication. There is something else too: the honest 


General Education in a Free Society 

intent to make your ideas known, as against the desire to deceive 
or merely to conceal. Communication is not speaking only but 
listening as well; you cannot succeed in communicating your 
ideas unless the other person wishes to hear and knows how to 
listen. As there are two kinds of language, oral and written, 
communication breaks up into the four related skills of speaking 
and listening, writing and reading. 

Communication is that unrestricted exchange of ideas within 
the body politic by which a prosperous intellectual economy is 
secured. In its character as the sharing of meanings it is the in- 
strument by which human beings are welded into a society, both 
the living with the living and the living with the dead. In a free 
and democratic society the art of communication has a special 
importance. A totalitarian state can obtain consent by force; 
but a democracy must persuade, and persuasion is through 
speech, oral or other. In a democracy issues are aired, talked out 
of existence or talked into solution. Failure of communication 
between the citizens, or between the government and the public, 
means a breakdown in the democratic process. Nevertheless, 
whereas people have been brought together nearer than ever 
before, in a physical sense, by the improvement of mechanisms of 
transportation, it cannot be said that mutual understanding 
among individuals and among peoples has made a corresponding 
advance. Skills, crafts, professions, and scholarly disciplines are 
apt to surround themselves by high walls of esoteric jargon. 
Other barriers are erected through the tendency to convert 
communication into propaganda, whether it be political propa- 
ganda, or economic propaganda, as for instance in some types of 
advertising. Thus, effective communication depends on the 
possession not only of skills such as clear thinking and cogent 
expression but of moral qualities as well, such as candor. 

In older days, a course on rhetoric was a normal part of the 
curriculum. Rhetoric to us suggests oratory, and today we are 
suspicious of or at least indifferent to oratory. Yet the art of 
rhetoric meant the simple skill of making one's ideas clear and 
cogent; it did not necessarily mean high-flown speeches. The 
simplest example of communication is conversation. It is a truism 


Theory of General Education 

to say that conversation is a lost art. The question is, where was 
it lost? If we carry on less, or less good, conversation than 
our ancestors did, is it because we have lost the art, or because, 
having become technicians, we have little to say that is suitable 
for general conversation, or because we are much more interested 
in doing things driving, for example, or playing bridge? 
Learned persons are apt to disparage conversation as trivial or 
frivolous, but unjustly so. If you are looking for the uncovering 
of important truths during a dinner party, of course you may be 
disappointed; but that is because you will be looking for the 
wrong thing. The contribution of general conversation is the 
revelation and impact of personality. While nothings are being 
bandied about and trivial words, like the lightest balloons, are 
launched into the air, contact with personalities is being achieved 
through characteristic inflections and emphases, through readi- 
ness or shyness of response. In conversation the idea is insepar- 
able from the man; conversation is useful because it is the most 
unforced and natural means of bringing persons together into a 
society. Beyond its social function, conversation is a delight in 
itself. It is an art, yet it loses its value if it becomes artificial. Its 
essence is spontaneity, impetus, movement; the words of a con- 
versation are evanescent, things of the moment, while written 
words are formalized, rigid, and fixed. Starting with simple things 
like the weather and minor personal happenings, it proceeds to 
weave a pattern of sentiments and ideas, and through these of 
persons, which is fugitive just because it is alive. 

Perhaps we have wandered too far from the serious or should 
we say the ponderous aspects of our problem. Yet we had a 
point to make: that language needs to be neither high learning 
nor high literature in order to be communication. What we have 
in mind is the language of a businessman writing a plain and 
crisp letter, of a scientist making a report, of a citizen asking 
straight questions, of human beings arguing together on some 
matter of common interest. 

The making of relevant judgments involves the ability of the 
student to bring to bear the whole range of ideas upon the area of 
experience. It is not now a question of apprehending more rela- 


General Education in a Free Society 

tionships within ideas but of applying these to actual facts. The 
most competent instructor of military science is not necessarily 
the best officer in the field. An adequate theory of ball playing 
is conceivable, but an abstract knowledge of it would not make a 
good ballplayer any more than a course on poetics, however 
good, would make a good poet. It is not the power to distinguish 
or state the universal formula, for separated contemplation, which 
heightens our skill. It is the power to use the formula in the new 
concrete situations as they fleet past us which education aims to 
advance. In Plato's myth the philosopher who has obtained the 
vision of the good must return to the cave and use his vision in 
order to guide himself among the shadows. Initially and in- 
evitably he is confused; only after long habituation is he able to 
find his way around and properly to apply his concepts to his 
concrete experience. There is no rule to be learned which could 
tell the student how to apply rules to cases; the translation from 
theory to practice involves an art all its own and requires the 
skill which we call sagacity or judgment. 

To some degree every school or college is separated from life 
by high walls, visible or invisible; it holds reality at arm's length. 
And up to a point this is necessary and proper. While it is true 
that the present is our only fact, nevertheless we cannot see the 
present so long as we are immersed in it; we need the perspective 
afforded by distance in time and in space. One of the aims of 
education is to break the stranglehold of the present upon the 
mind. On the other side is the fact that youth is instinctive and 
ardent; to subject youth to a steady diet of abstractions alone 
would be cruel and unnatural. Moreover, abstractions in them- 
selves are meaningless unless connected with experience; and for 
this reason all education is in some sense premature. The adult 
who rereads his great authors realizes how much he had missed of 
their meaning when he read them in school or college. Now his 
reading is more rewarding because his range of experience is 
greater. One might conceive fancifully of another scheme of 
life in which work comes first and education begins later, say at 
forty-five. The advantages of this scheme are obvious. Not only 
would the mature student be amply equipped with the depth of 

Theory of General Education 

experience necessary for the understanding of the great authors, 
but the financial problem would be solved. The student would 
have saved enough money from his work, or perhaps his children 
would support him. 

But such Utopias are not for us; we have to deal with harsh 
realities. Education must be so contrived that the young, during 
the very process of their schooling, will realize the difference 
between abstractions and facts and will learn to make the transi- 
tion from thought to action. A young man who has been nour- 
ished with ideas exclusively will be tempted by the sin of intel- 
lectual pride, thinking himself capable of dealing with any 
problem, independently of experience. When he later comes into 
contact with things, he will stumble or perhaps in self-defense 
withdraw into sterile cleverness. As we have seen, the aptitude 
of making relevant judgments cannot be developed by theoretical 
teaching; being an art, it comes from example, practice, and 
habituation. The teacher can do a great deal nonetheless; he can 
relate theoretical content to the student's life at every feasible 
point, and he can deliberately simulate in the classroom situations 
from life. Finally, he can bring concrete reports of actual cases 
for discussion with the students. The essential thing is that the 
teacher should be constantly aware of the ultimate objectives, 
never letting means obscure ends, and be persistent in directing 
the attention of the student from the symbols to the things they 

Discrimination among values involves choice. The ability to 
discriminate in choosing covers not only awareness of different 
kinds of value but of their relations, including a sense of relative 
importance and of the mutual dependence of means and ends. It 
covers also much that is analogous to method in thinking; for 
example, the power to distinguish values truly known from values 
received only from opinion and therefore not in the same way 
part of the fabric of experience. Values are of many kinds. There 
are the obvious values of character, like fair play, courage, self- 
control, the impulse of beneficence and humanity; there are the 
intellectual values, like the love of truth and the respect for the 
intellectual enterprise in all its forms; there are the aesthetic 


General Education in a Free Society 

values, like good taste and the appreciation of beauty. As for the 
last, people are apt to locate beauty in picture galleries and in 
museums and to leave it there; it is equally, if not more, important 
to seek beauty in ordinary things, so that it may surround one's 
life like an atmosphere. 

Add to all this that the objective of education is not just 
knowledge of values but commitment to them, the embodiment 
of the ideal in one's actions, feelings, and thoughts, no less than an 
intellectual grasp of the ideal. The reader may objec. that we are 
proposing a confusion, that we are suggesting the turning of 
school or college into a moral reformatory or a church. For is 
not the purpose of educational institutions to train the mind and 
the mind only? Yet it is not easy, indeed it is impossible, to 
separate effective thinking from character. An essential factor in 
the advancement of knowledge is intellectual integrity, the sup- 
pression of all wishful thinking and the strictest regard for the 
claims of evidence. The universal community of educated men 
is a fellowship of ideals as well as of beliefs. To isolate the activ- 
ity of thinking from the morals of thinking is to make sophists 
of the young and to encourage them to argue for the sake of per- 
sonal victory rather than of the truth. We are not so naive as to 
suggest that theoretical instruction in the virtues will automati- 
cally make a student virtuous. Rather, we assert that the best 
way to infect the student with the zest for intellectual integrity is 
to put him near a teacher who is himself selflessly devoted to the 
truth; so that a spark from the teacher will, so to speak, leap 
across the desk into the classroom, kindling within the student 
the flame of intellectual integrity, which will thereafter sustain 

The problem of moral values and character is more complex. 
Here the college does not play quite the same role as the school. 
Clearly we have a right to expect the school to be engaged di- 
rectly in moral education. But although the college shares in this 
responsibility, it cannot be expected to use the same direct ap- 
proach. The college will have to confine itself to providing a 
proper discrimination of values and will trust to the Socratic 
dictum that the knowledge of the good will lead to a commit- 


Theory of General Education 

ment to the good. Nevertheless, we must recognize a difference 
between the responsibility of both school and college to train the 
intellect and their responsibility to form character. In some sense, 
the former responsibility is a unique one for the educational in- 
stitution. But in the sphere of moral instruction the school shares 
its responsibilities with numerous other institutions, of which the 
family is the most important. Moreover, the school's responsi- 
bility is less than that of the family in this field. To use an 
earlier figure there is danger in regarding the school as a mod- 
ern Atlas to whom is entrusted the bearing of the whole task of 
the formation of man. To change the metaphor, a wise society 
does not put all its eggs in one basket. By the same token, the 
school cannot remain uninterested in the task of moral education. 
Just as liberal education, while strictly liberal, must somehow be 
oriented toward vocationalism, so in this general way will school 
and college be oriented toward moral character. 

Discrimination in values is developed by the study of all the 
three areas of learning. We have seen that the humanities point 
both to moral and to aesthetic values. It may be true, as we have 
said earlier, that ethical neutrality is a guiding rule for the his- 
torian as scholar. Nevertheless, the historian or social scientist, 
as teacher, should probably go further and present to the student 
the human past and human institutions not merely as facts but as 
attempted embodiments of the good life in its various phases. In 
the natural sciences facts are studied in abstraction from values. 
But this separation, while pragmatically valid, leads to disaster 
if treated as final. Values are rooted in facts; and human ideals 
are somehow a part of nature. 


The Good Man and the Citizen 

GENERAL education, we repeat, must consciously aim at these 
abilities: at effective thinking, communication, the making of 
relevant judgments, and the discrimination of values. As was 


General Education in a Free Society 

noted earlier, one of the subtlest and most prevalent effects of 
specialism has been that, through its influence, subjects have 
tended to be conceived and taught with an eye, so to speak, to 
their own internal logic rather than to their larger usefulness to 
students. In a course in history, for example, little concern will 
be felt for a student's ability to express himself, which will be 
left to English, or for his ability to think logically, which will 
fall to mathematics. Good teachers will, to be sure, always say 
of their subject that it subserves these higher aims, and to their 
great credit many do seek these aims. But the organization of 
knowledge into rigid, almost autonomous units, w r orks against 
them. One of the few clear facts about the unclear and much dis- 
puted question of the transfer of powers from one subject to 
another is that it will tend not to take place unless it is deliber- 
ately planned for and worked for. Again, every course, whether 
general or special, may be expected to contribute something to 
all these abilities. Doubtless some courses will contribute more 
to some traits and others to others, but these abilities are after all 
of quite universal importance. Communication is basic to science 
as well as to literature; the power to think effectively is as essen- 
tial to all forms of speech as it is to mathematics. Indeed, it will 
not be fostered as it should even by mathematics, unless the logi- 
cal movements which find their purest form in theorems and 
equations are expressly given wider use. The power to discrimi- 
nate between values is involved in this very act of wider applica- 
tion. Finally, the mastery of any one of the three large areas of 
learning will be of little use to the student unless he can relate 
his learning to the realities of experience and practice. 

Human personality cannot, however, be broken up into dis- 
tinct parts or traits. Education must look to the whole man. It 
has been wisely said that education aims at the good man, the 
good citizen, and the useful man. By a good man is meant one 
who possesses an inner integration, poise, and firmness, which in 
the long run come from an adequate philosophy of life. Personal 
integration is not a fifth characteristic in addition to the other 
four and coordinate with them; it is their proper fruition. The 
aim of liberal education is the development of the whole man; 


Theory of General Education 

and human nature involves instincts and sentiments as well as the 
intellect. Two dangers must be mentioned. First, there is the 
danger of identifying intelligence with the qualities of the so- 
called intellectual type with bookishness and skill in the manip- 
ulation of concepts. We have tried to guard against this mistake 
by stressing the traits of relevant judgment and discrimination of 
values in effective thinking. Second, we must remember that 
intelligence, even when taken in its widest sense, does not exhaust 
the total potentialities of human nature. Man is not a contem- 
plative being alone. Why is it, then, that education is conceived 
as primarily an intellectual enterprise when, in fact, human nature 
is so complex? For instance, man has his emotions and his drives 
and his will; why should education center on the training of the 
intellect? The answer is found in the truth that intelligence is 
not a special function (or not that only) but a way in which all 
human powers may function. Intelligence is that leaven of aware- 
ness and reflection which, operating upon the native powers of 
men, raises them from the animal level and makes them truly 
human. By reason we mean, not an activity apart, but rational 
guidance of all human activity. Thus the fruit of education is 
intelligence in action. The aim is mastery of life; and since living 
is an art, wisdom is the indispensable means to this end. 

We are here disputing the doctrine, sometimes described as the 
classical view, that in education, reason is a self-sufficient end. 
Yet it was Plato himself who urged that the guardians of the state 
should be courageous as well as wise, in other words, that they 
should be full-blooded human beings as well as trained minds. 
We equally oppose the view at the other extreme that vitality 
and initiative, unregulated by the intellect, are adequate criteria 
of the good man. Whenever the two parts of the single aim are 
separated, when either thought or action is stressed as an exclusive 
end, when the teachers look only to scholarly ability and the 
students (and perhaps the public too) only to proficiency in 
activities and to "personality" (whatever that may mean), then 
indeed wholeness is lost. And what is worse, these qualities 
themselves, in proportion as they are divorced from each other, 
tend to wither or at least to fall short of fulfilling their promise. 


General Education in a Free Society 

We are not at all unmindful of the importance of religious 
belief in the completely good life. But, given the American 
scene with its varieties of faith and even of unfaith, we did not 
feel justified in proposing religious instruction as a part of the 
curriculum. The love of God is tested by the love of neighbor; 
nevertheless the love of God transcends merely human obliga- 
tions. We must perforce speak in purely humanistic terms, con- 
fining ourselves to the obligations of man to himself and to soci- 
ety. But we have been careful so to delimit humanism as not to 
exclude the religious ideal. Yet we are not arguing for an educa- 
tion which is student-centered. As man is the measure of the 
abstract values, so in their turn do these values measure man. 
Like an ellipse, an educational institution has two centers, not one. 
And although the geometrical metaphor forbids it, truth compels 
us to add a third, namely, society. 

Just as it is wrong to split the human person into separate 
parts, so would it be wrong to split the individual from society. 
We must resist the prevalent tendency, or at any rate tempta- 
tion, to interpret the good life purely in terms of atomic individu- 
als engaged in fulfilling their potentialities. Individualism is often 
confused with the life of private and selfish interest. The man- 
date of this committee is to concern itself with "the objectives of 
education in a free society." It is important to realize that the 
ideal of a free society involves a twofold value, the value of 
freedom and that of society. Democracy is a community of free 
men. We are apt sometimes to stress freedom the power of 
individual choice and the right to think for oneself without 
taking sufficient account of the obligation to cooperate with our 
fellow men; democracy must represent an adjustment between 
the values of freedom and social living. 

Eighteenth-century liberalism tended to conceive the good 
life in terms of freedom alone and thought of humanity in 
pluralistic terms (like matter in Newtonian physics) as an ag- 
gregate of independent particles. But a life in which everyone 
owns his home as his castle and refrains from interfering with 
others is a community in a negative sense only. Rugged individu- 
alism is not sufficient to constitute a democracy; democracy also 


Theory of General Education 

is fraternity and cooperation for the common good. Josiah Royce 
defined the good life in terms of loyalty to a shared value. Of 
course when union is stressed to the exclusion of freedom we fall 
into totalitarianism; but when freedom is stressed exclusively we 
fall into chaos. Democracy is the attempt to combine liberty 
with loyalty, each limiting the other, and also each reinforcing 
the other. 

It is important, however, to limit the idea of the good citizen 
expressly by the ideal of the good man. By citizenship we do not 
mean the kind of loyalty which never questions the accepted 
purposes of society. A society which leaves no place for criticism 
of its own aims and methods by its component members has no 
chance to correct its errors and ailments, no chance to advance 
to new and better forms, and will eventually stagnate, if not die. 
The quality of alert and aggressive individualism is essential to 
good citzenship; and the good society consists of individuals 
who are independent in outlook and think for themselves while 
also willing to subordinate their individual good to the common 

But the problem of combining these two aims is one of the 
hardest tasks facing our society. The ideal of free inquiry is a 
precious heritage of Western culture; yet a measure of firm be- 
lief is surely part of the good life. A free society means tolera- 
tion, which in turn comes from openness of mind. But freedom 
also presupposes conviction; a free choice unless it be wholly 
arbitrary (and then it would not be free) comes from belief 
and ultimately from principle. A free society, then, cherishes 
both toleration and conviction. Yet the two seem incompatible, 
If I am convinced of the truth of my views, on what grounds 
should I tolerate your views, which I believe to be false? The 
answer lies partly in my understanding of my limitations as a 
man. Such understanding is not only the expression of an intel- 
lectual humility but is a valid inference from the fact that wise 
men have made endless mistakes in the past. Furthermore, a 
belief which does not meet the challenge of criticism and dissent 
soon becomes inert, habitual, dead. Had there been no hetero- 
doxies, the orthodox should have invented them. A belief which 


General Education in a Free Society 

is not envisaged as an answer to a problem is not a belief but a 
barren formula. 

How far should we go in the direction of the open mind? 
Especially after the first World War, liberals were sometimes 
too distrustful of enthusiasm and were inclined to abstain from 
committing themselves as though there were something foolish, 
even shameful, in belief. Yet especially with youth, which is ar- 
dent and enthusiastic, open-mindedness without belief is apt to 
lead to the opposite extreme of fanaticism. We can all perhaps re- 
call young people of our acquaintance who from a position of ex- 
treme skepticism, and indeed because of that position, fell an 
easy prey to fanatical gospels. It seems that nature abhors an 
intellectual vacuum. A measure of belief is necessary in order to 
preserve the quality of the open mind. If toleration is not to 
become nihilism, if conviction is not to become dogmatism, if 
criticism is not to become cynicism, each must have something of 
the other. 



Problems of Diversity 

Kinds of Difference 

FROM this high vantage point where knowledge, like an out- 
spread landscape, looks harmonious and untroubled, we return 
in this chapter to a more usual and dimmer plane. The main 
upshot of all that has been said until now is so simple that any 
statement of it sounds almost absurdly flat. It is that, as Ameri- 
cans, we are necessarily both one and many, both a people fol- 
lowing the same road to a joint future and a set of individuals 
following scattered roads as gifts and circumstances dictate. But 
though flat and truistic this double fact is the foundation of this 
report. Simple in itself, it is far from simple in its consequences. 
It means that, though common aims must bind together the whole 
educational system, there exists no one body of knowledge, no 
single system of instruction equally valid for every part of it. 
That is obviously true as regards special education, the thousand 
avenues of specific competence. But it is true even, though to a 
lesser extent, of general education. We have sketched what 
seem to us the traits of mind necessary for anything like a com- 
plete life in our society. We have described the facets of reality 
reflected in the different spheres of learning and together com- 
prising what the human spirit can call truth (though we have 
left out, for reasons already given, what many consider the 
highest, most embracing sphere, that of religion, and our exposi- 
tion may seem to fall short on that account) . But and here is 
the great difficulty when it comes to fostering these traits of 
mind and presenting this view of truth, the immense variation 


General Education in a Free Society 

among students enters in, precluding any universal method. 
General education must accordingly be conceived less as a 
specific set of books to be read or courses to be given, than as a 
concern for certain goals of knowledge and outlook and an in- 
sistence that these goals be sought after by many means as in- 
tently as are those of specialism. That is not to say that some 
books and some subjects will not be commoner than others in all 
attempts to achieve general education; they will. Shakespeare's 
plays are more important than Jonson's; the speeches of Lincoln 
than those of Douglas. But it is to say that this search for a sound 
general education is as various and unending as the search for the 
good society itself and that there are many roads to Rome. 

These points have been repeated at the risk of tiresomeness 
because, instead of going on as we shall in the next two chapters 
to discuss ways and means of carrying out general education, we 
wish to return here to the stubborn and crucial question of the 
difference between students. As was said earlier, there is always 
a tendency, which this report will not have escaped, to think of 
general education as a series of highly literate courses of the sort 
which necessarily appeal to the gifted and intellectual. So far as 
colleges and college-preparatory schools are concerned, that is 
right and proper. But the interests of such students can be over- 
emphasized, as if the task of schools and colleges were (in the 
terms used earlier) wholly Jeffersonian and not Jacksonian also. 
The next two chapters will by their nature look largely to the 
first, the Jeffersonian side of education, but they would be badly 
out of focus if more were not first said of the second, Jacksonian 

In days when only the favored went beyond grammar school 
this question of the differences between students hardly arose. 
The ordinary boy left school and went to work with his father 
or went West or went to sea or found a job in the community 
where people knew him, and the ordinary girl worked at home 
or near by. When industrialization began many of them drifted 
into the factories, with well-known results which provoked legis- 
lation against child labor and led to raising the school age. More 
lately, unemployment has tended to raise the age still further. In 


Problems of Diversity 

1933, five million young people between sixteen and twenty-four 
roughly a third of the whole group, including all those still 
being educated were out of school but unemployed, and of 
these the younger were progressively the worse affected. The 
war has of course changed all this, but unless the fifty-five or 
sixty million jobs which have been estimated as necessary for full 
employment after the war in fact materialize, much the same 
conditions will recur, with the young feeling their impact first 
and most heavily. The cause is not wholly, or perhaps mainly, 
in a failure of our economic system. Thousands of lighter jobs 
which used to call for a brisk young pair of hands have simply 
ceased to exist, and the ordinary job calls for competence or 
stamina or both. The combined effect of these humanitarian and 
economic forces has been the staggering increase in enrollments 
discussed earlier. In many states nearly the whole population of 
high-school age is now in high school, and the same may pres- 
ently be true of most states. Thus within a generation the prob- 
lem of how best to meet this immense range of talent and need 
has grown up, like the fabled beanstalk, to overshadow virtually 
every other educational problem. It is in truth at the heart of any 
attempt to achieve education for democracy. 

The professional word for the problem is "differentiation," a 
term applied to two main spheres: an inner sphere of ability and 
outlook and an outer sphere of opportunity. These two spheres 
are obviously to some unknown extent related. One cannot dis- 
tinguish rigidly the conditions surrounding a child and creating 
the atmosphere in which he is brought up from the view of the 
world and of his destiny in it which he will unconsciously form. 
The fact is fundamental to the history of this country, even of 
the modern era. The welling up of talent and energy which has 
historically accompanied the decline of privilege and the rise of 
submerged classes has evidently been in large degree simply a re- 
lease of powers suppressed or dormant until then. Long familiar 
here, this seems the basic process which has been taking place for 
a generation in Russia and which is said to be under way in the 
Middle East and East. It is the unfolding of potentiality to the 
sunlight of stimulus and self-respect. But on any short view, at 

General Education in a Free Society 

least, the process seems to have limits, likewise unknown, as re- 
gards both peoples and individuals. As to peoples, it has been 
argued that a release of the kind familiar here or during the 
Renaissance or in modern Russia works through only a minority 
of the people, a previously submerged fifth or fourth perhaps, 
leaving the rest relatively untouched, except, of course, as they 
are affected by the new conditions brought about by the former. 
Certainly every yeoman's son in Elizabethan England did not be- 
come a Shakespeare or even one who enjoyed Shakespeare; nor 
in this country was every frontier boy a Lincoln or one who 
understood Lincoln. Many must have remained almost untouched 
by the expansive atmosphere of those times, which yet produced 
such men. As regards individuals, the same limits show them- 
selves. The best schools and most modern housing do not 
suddenly endue all the young people in them with high standards 
and good ability. Something like the old theological question of 
the perfectibility of man is involved here, and one can only say 
that, though people do in fact respond to outer conditions, which 
are therefore incalculably important, and though conditions have 
never been perfect (indeed, it is unknown what are perfect con- 
ditions for human growth) and consequently it is uncertain what 
their results would be, still the brute fact of human difference 
remains. All men are equal before God and the law and, if sane, 
are equally responsible for their acts, but they differ biologically 
and, even under the best conditions, would presumably strive for 
different ends. 

Hence, though powerfully and subtly related, difference by 
ability and outlook on the one hand and by opportunity on the 
other are not the same. The former shows itself first in the 
actual range of performance by students in school. A group of 
representative thirteen-year-olds will show a span of some seven 
years in ability. About 5 per cent of them will be as bright as 
the average sixteen-year-old, another 5 per cent no brighter than 
a ten-year-old. At twenty a few will be capable of almost any 
intellectual task, others will not have progressed and may never 
progress beyond the mental age of eleven or twelve. The main 
criteria are vocabulary and the ability to deal with abstractions. 


Problems of Diversity 

By fifteen an ordinary high-school student recognizes some ten 
to fifteen thousand words. Some know many more, others only 
a few thousand. More variable is their ability to attach meaning 
to words. Ideas like hardness, sweetness, cleanliness, fair play, 
have meaning for almost everyone. But more abstract concepts 
like demonstrative proof in geometry, generalized number in 
algebra, or hypothesis in science, and the more general ranges of 
such social ideas as justice and even democracy, ask an effort of 
mind of which many adolescents seem incapable and an equip- 
ment for thought which they appear to lack. A still higher stage 
of conceptualization such as transfinite numbers and the four- 
dimensional geometry of mathematicians exceeds the powers of 
most human beings. 

These differences come into play in high school, making of it 
a kind of vast sorting machine separating students by ability. It 
must inevitably be such to some extent, but the purpose in trying 
to distinguish accidental from inborn qualities in young people is 
to make this sorting fairer and less harsh. Similarly, the purpose 
of general education is to assure that it shall not be guided by 
economic values only but of this more presently. As it is, even 
by the ninth grade some 10 to 30 per cent of the school popula- 
tion has dropped back, and the average intelligence of the grade 
is therefore three or four points above the norm. The proportion 
which drops back depends upon the policy of the school. Even 
where students are promoted regularly in order that they may 
stay with others of their age, some of the duller ones are sure to 
be placed in "ungraded rooms" or to be otherwise kept from 
high school, though the number may be as low as 10 per cent. 
Other schools, by not promoting poor students, may keep back 
as many as 30 per cent. Thus the mental range of the high school 
as a whole covers from three fourths to nine tenths of the total 
range. The graduating class is more select, preponderantly above 
the lowest quarter. College in turn brings a new stage of selec- 
tion, roughly the top quarter, though with exceptions. Those 
colleges which draw largely from a local population may admit 
from the upper half, though in that case many students will tend 
to drop out after a year or two. A few colleges draw chiefly 


General Education in a Free Society 

from the upper tenth. The mechanism by which this sifting takes 
place is of course the curriculum. Slower students can sometimes 
learn as much as the abler by taking more time; in other cases 
they simply fail to learn, at least under present methods and in a 
practicable time. Algebra was cited earlier as a subject in which, 
under the limitations just mentioned, perhaps a half of the ninth 
grade fails. Subjects which have a like effect in other grades are 
physics and chemistry, geometry, foreign language, economics 
if treated analytically, and those ranges of English and the social 
studies which also involve analysis. Colleges which reach below 
the top quarter in I.Q. either have somewhat lower standards 
or have consciously or unconsciously created new types of 
courses for the less gifted. 

Intelligence is thus one ground of differentiation. Within 
what we have called the inner sphere of mind and outlook (as 
opposed to the outer sphere of opportunity), expectation is an- 
other. Here the distinction between the two spheres grows 
thinner. If vocabulary and the power to grasp abstractions to 
some extent reflect a person's background and early influences, 
his expectations do so far more. Many young people who are 
quite capable of doing college work do not go to college because 
they are too poor. That is an obvious lack of opportunity to 
which we shall come in a moment. But others equally able do 
not go on because they lack the desire. They tend to come from 
working-class families where no college tradition exists and even 
graduation from high school was rare until lately. Expectations 
must be learned; they are not inborn. If parents and relatives do 
not teach these young people to value education and the things to 
which it leads, who will? A teacher, perhaps, or pastor or, more 
rarely, an employer or older acquaintance still more rarely, 
probably, reading or a movie. But usually they adopt their par- 
ents' expectations and the general color of their surroundings. If 
it is certain that many able but poor and otherwise handicapped 
young people look to education as a chance to better themselves, 
it is equally certain that many, perhaps more, do not. 1 Their 

1 See W. Lloyd Warner, Robert J. Havighurst, and Martin B. Loeb, Who 
Shall Be Educated? Harper and Brothers, 1944. 


Problems of Diversity 

ambition is bounded by the world that they know, and to 
advance a step or two within it is enough. 

Again, within this same inner sphere are differences of interest. 
There are the mechanical who like to work with their hands, 
and the meditative, often clumsy with their hands but quick at 
words and ideas. There are the literal, at home in everything 
exact, and the artistic, who see things intuitively and by symbols. 
These and similar differences apparently have little or nothing 
to do with background but run through all social classes. Yet 
they are of course fostered or repressed by background and even 
by the general character of an age. There seems no reason to 
believe that altogether exceptional artistic talent existed in 
ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy, or that scientific and ex- 
ecutive gifts, to a degree far beyond all others, are inborn in 
Americans. Opportunity, rather, gives play to some gifts, re- 
pressing others, and a chief role of general education is precisely 
to check the too iron working of current forces, to the end of 
eliciting the varied powers innate in people, thereby enriching 
both them and the community. 

Finally, there is a vastly important but equally obscure differ- 
ence in will power and fidelity to purpose. Even the best intel- 
lectual gifts come to little without this virtue, and less than the 
best gifts may go far with it. How will power is related to back- 
ground is most uncertain. Neither extreme privilege nojr ex- 
treme lack of privilege seems conducive to it, though an oc- 
casional person has conspicuously shown it in spite of or 
perhaps, in some subtle way, because of these handicaps. On 
the other hand, it is certainly not a random gift of the gods; 
otherwise, it would not have marked so high a proportion of 
people in certain groups and nations throughout history. It 
seems to have something to do with a combination of clear 
standards and hard but not impossible demands. As Herodotus 
makes a king of Sparta say, "Poverty has always been native to 
Greece, but virtue has been acquired, the creation of thought 
and firm custom." But whatever its origin, this quality of will 
power is something different from intelligence, though in the 
long run it may help it. Hence any test of intelligence gives very 


General Education in a Free Society 

incomplete grounds for judging a person, particularly a young 
person in his changing years, and knowledge thus gained must 
be augmented by some test of actual accomplishment and by the 
judgment of teachers. Nowhere is the insight of a good teacher 
so indispensable as in holding students to their best and in setting 
for each work matched to both his gifts and his will. If to deal 
successfully with any of the differences so far noted calls for 
much experience and small enough classes so that teachers can 
know their pupils, that is supremely the case in this all-important 
and entirely personal, unmechanical task of nurturing and judg- 
ing character. 

So much for the inner sphere of mind and outlook. To turn 
now to the outer sphere of opportunity, it is clear from what has 
been said that equal opportunity does not mean identical pro- 
visions for all. Rather, it means access for all to those avenues of 
education which match their gifts and interests. That obviously 
includes access to good schooling through college and graduate 
school for all young people of the requisite will and ability, re- 
gardless of their means. Here we are back at what was called 
earlier the main task of our educational system: to nurture 
ability while raising the average. But before returning to that 
question it is worth trying to judge in some rough way the size 
and complexity of the task. The sources of unequal opportunity 
are of two kinds, socio-economic and geographical, and we shall 
say a few words of each. 

The extent to which means determine opportunity appears 
from several studies which have been made in small cities of 
New England, the South, and the Middle West. The popu- 
lation of each city was sorted into several groups, and the 
education of the children of each group was then compared. 
There were relatively slight differences from one section 
of the country to the other. The following broad categories 

(a) The upper group as regards income sends nearly all its children 
through high school, public or private, and about 90 per cent to 
college. These are professional people, owners, managers, and per- 
sons living on inherited money. Practically all of them can afford 


Problems of Diversity 

to send their children to college, but they produce only some 8 per 
cent of the children of the community. 

(b) The middle group as regards income sends about 60 per cent of 
its children through high school and about 15 per cent to college 
or some other higher institution. They are small businessmen, 
clerical and other office workers, minor professional people, fore- 
men and a few skilled workers. They produce about a third of the 
children in the community. Many of these young people aspire to 
positions above those of their parents, and for them high school and, 
more rarely, college are roads to this goal. While a good number 
of them have excellent native ability, their parents cannot afford 
to send them to college, and they must look to scholarships and 
part-time employment if they go. The presence of a tuition-free 
college near by makes their going more likely. 

(c) The lower group sends about 30 per cent of its children through 
high school and about 5 per cent through college. It comprises 
the great majority of workers, skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled. 
They are the poor. They produce about 60 per cent of the children 
of the community. It is usually a sacrifice for them to keep their 
children in high school, and they cannot possibly pay money 
toward college. The minority of young people from this group 
who finish high school are often ambitious for better things. They 
take commercial and other vocational courses, hoping for more 
security and a higher income than their fathers knew. But there is 
usually a limit to their hopes. Most of them will be satisfied with a 
step up to a slightly higher income, and the very few who aspire 
to college must work their way without help from home. 

Thus it appears that from the middle and lower groups,* con- 
taining more than 90 per cent of the children, very many boys 
and girls roughly a half of the whole number drop out of 
high school and very few go on to college. One may then ask 
how much ability is lost. How many young people able to do 
good college work do not reach college? A rough answer is 
possible on the assumption, generally accepted by college ad- 
missions officers, that the top 20 to 25 per cent of the total group 
can succeed in an average liberal college. This represents an 
I.Q. of 1 10 and above. From a study 2 of young people of this 
intelligence made in Pennsylvania in 1936, it was found that 57 
per cent of those whose means were above average went to col- 

'Harlan UpdegrafF, Inventory of Youth In Pennsylvania. American Council 
on Education, 1936. (Mimeographed.) 

(8 7 ) 

General Education in a Free Society 

lege, but only 13 per cent of those whose means were below 
average. Now the whole latter group (that is, those with I.Q. 
no or above but below-average means, whether or not they 
went to college) is about 1 1 per cent of the total age group. 
The 13 per cent of them who went to college thus represent 
about one and one-half per cent of the total, leaving more than 
9 per cent of the boys and girls in Pennsylvania who were of 
college caliber but of below-average means and who did not go 
to college. These findings arc confirmed by a study of a still 
abler group 3 all of the highest 10 per cent in intelligence, of 
I.Q. 116 and over who graduated from Milwaukee high 
schools in 1937 and 1938. Sixty-three per cent of them came 
from families whose income was under three thousand dollars 
and did not go to college. That is, over 6 per cent of the total 
age group had excellent ability but did not go to college for 
reasons which were at least partly financial. 

These estimates give reason for saying that out of every one 
hundred young people between six and nine are good college 
material but do not reach college. This group is as large, or 
nearly so, as the entire body of students now in college. They 
are prevented by either or both of two causes: lack of means or 
lack of desire. Something has been said of those who are able 
enough but do not want further education. In a sense they are 
denied it by hostile surroundings. But not a great deal can be 
done for them by the time that they reach high school, though 
something may yet be done by inspiring teachers. I low many 
of them are there? What is the division, among able young 
people who do not go to college, between those who would go 
if they could, and those who would not? On the basis of very 
slender evidence noted earlier, 4 it appears about equal. If so, 3 
to 5 per cent of our young people annually some seventy-five 
to one hundred and twenty-five thousand are of college cali- 
ber and would go to college if they could but are prevented by 

"Helen B. Goetsch, Parental Income and College Opportunities, Teachers 
College, Columbia University, Contributions to Education, no. 795, 1940. 
* See note on page 84. 


Problems of Diversity 

Here, then, is a wide lack of opportunity, and similar lacks 
must be noted among the progressively less gifted. We have 
spoken so far only of the upper quarter in ability. But young 
people of average intelligence, though not suited for the tradi- 
tional college, can yet profit from training in agriculture or 
nursing and from many kinds of courses, largely vocational, of- 
fered by junior colleges and technical institutes. It is evidently 
as important for their welfare and that of society that they make 
the best of themselves as that the more gifted do so. Hence the 
estimate just made of the numbers who deserve and wish but 
cannot afford education beyond high school must be enlarged, 
probably more than doubled, to include this group. And there 
are financial limitations even on high school. It was noted earlier 
that only a third of the children from the lower income group, 
itself three fifths of the population, now graduate. To put it 
otherwise, in 1940 about 60 per cent of all our young people 
were in high school at sixteen and about 45 per cent at eighteen. 
Assuming as a rough guess that the lowest fifth in intelligence 
would not profit beyond sixteen from the present-day high 
school, that still leaves 20 per cent at sixteen and 35 per cent at 
eighteen who could have profited but did not stay. Some of 
them live in isolated places far from a high school; others are 
farmers' children who expect to live on the farm. Still others 
frankly prefer the immediate advantages of work and wagfes to 
the more distant returns from education. Nevertheless, very 
many would certainly continue in high school if they could 
afford the cash cost and if their parents did not need their earn- 
ings. The cost of high school is higher than is commonly real- 
ized about ninety dollars a year by a recent estimate, with 
variations according to the size of communities and the age of 
students. The money goes for clothing, athletic equipment, class 
dues, lunch, and various other purposes which loom large in the 
life of adolescents. How many of the 35 per cent just estimated 
as not finishing high school though intelligent enough to do so 
were thus prevented by lack of money or by their parents' need? 
It is impossible to say surely a sizable proportion. 

Such, in very broad terms, are the limits now imposed on edu- 


General Education in a Free Society 

cation by means and social status. These estimates have been 
based on prewar incomes, and if real incomes should rise after 
the war for the poor, opportunity would likewise rise. If, 
further, the social environment of these young people should 
improve materially, more of them would almost certainly show 
higher promise. There is experimental evidence that ability can 
be improved as a child's early surroundings are improved evi- 
dence which, as was said, the growth and spread of talent which 
have accompanied the decline of privilege in the modern era tends 
to confirm. After all, even the most embracing modern school 
touches only part of a young person's life; there remain the 
shaping years of infancy and the steady pressure of surround- 

Is this slow process of social change the only hope of improve- 
ment? Certainly it is the main hope. One can of course make 
the trite, though always tragic, reply that to subsidize all those 
just estimated as not reaching college or junior college or finish- 
ing high school, though able and eager to do so, would cost only 
what is being spent on the war every few days. But it is also 
true that schools and colleges have still other needs: higher 
salaries, smaller classes, means of helping those who do not profit 
beyond a certain point from books, adult education above all, 
perhaps, a more rounded, longer, more continuing education of 
teachers. Short of the millennium, these claims will conflict, 
und the only hope of keeping one's bearings is to hold firmly in 
mind the final purpose of all education: to improve the average 
and speed the able while holding common goals before each. 
Subsidies tend to favor the able, while a general improvement 
of the school system favors all. Certainly funds can be quite as 
justly claimed for the latter purpose as for the former. Although 
subsidies are one, they are only one way of improving oppor- 
tunity. It is even dangerous to think of them as apart from other 
ways. The current movement to find and support promising 
young scientists, however worthy, could be ruinous if it created 
the impression that science, or any other one specialty, is enough 
even for these young people, much less for our potential leaders. 
Leadership is inseparable from its following, and both from com- 


Problems of Diversity 

mon standards. Subsidy must therefore be carried only so far as 
neither to breed overspecialism nor to turn men's eyes from that 
broader education (broader, that is, as respects both content and 
those whom it reaches) through which alone is specialism 
healthy and leadership possible. 

Finally, opportunity is also conditioned by geography, by the 
region in which a child happens to be born. Statistics on the 
very unequal sums spent per pupil and per teacher in the various 
states, a disparity which in turn reflects the very unequal re- 
sources of these states, were given in the first chapter and need 
not be restated here. Suffice it to say that as much as a fivefold 
difference (not in total but, to repeat, in expenditure per pupil) 
exists between a number of states, a difference by no means 
wholly canceled by the lower cost of living in the South as con- 
trasted to the Northeast. The ironic fact was also noted that, 
the birth rate being higher in the country than in the city, the 
poorer states, which are largely rural, have with their smaller 
means a higher proportion of children to educate. This double 
burden of less money and more children has shown itself in 
generally poorer facilities and lower attendance. In 1939, of the 
ages fourteen through eighteen, 392 in 1000 went to high school 
in Mississippi, 952 in Washington. Seven states, of the rural 
South and rural Great Plains, had fewer than 500 in 1000 en- 
rolled, while ten states, of the urban North and West, had rfiore 
than 800. Add the crowning irony that these states of least 
wealth and largest families, after educating their children at their 
own expense, lose about half of them to the urban and industrial 
states which do not reproduce themselves, and it is clear that a 
good deal less than justice is to be found in our present system. 
As said earlier, the solution clearly lies in some form of federal 
support of education which will at once help the poorer states 
maintain standards more nearly equal those of their richer neigh- 
bors, yet leave to all states their present responsibility. The 
founding fathers hardly foresaw that, in reserving education as 
a responsibility of the states, they were bequeathing this heritage 
of inequality. Yet as the states became unequal in their ability 
to support education such in fact has been the result. 


General Education in a Free Society 

Unity Conditioned by Difference 

THESE differences then of mind and outlook on the one 
hand, and of opportunity on the other make the tasks, present 
and future, of our schools and colleges almost unimaginably 
varied. The deductions to be drawn from any such overview 
are fairly clear as regards special education. At least the over- 
whelming response to this variety of gifts and interests has been 
to recognize the need for a nearly equal variety of means for 
turning them to account. There has ensued the vast diversifi- 
cation, already dwelt on, of schools and colleges and of courses 
within them surely a desirable, an inevitable step. That is not 
to say that much does not remain to be done in this quarter. Far 
better guidance and testing are clearly a first necessity since, if 
students have different aptitudes, everything obviously depends 
on discovering what these are and on placing them where they 
can be developed. Again, the relationship of special to general 
education needs far more thought. There is patent shortsighted- 
ness in turning out students equipped with this or that skill yet 
defective, say, in English, the basic means by which most skills 
come into play. But good speech and good writing are not 
learned in a few years and from a few courses. They develop as 
the whole mind develops, hence must be cultivated within and 
through special education. And the same is true not only of the 
power to communicate but of the other abilities discussed in the 
previous chapter. To recognize difference and to try to capital- 
ize on it by special training is not to escape more general and 
fundamental duties, even within this special training. And there 
remains the never-ending task of opening new avenues to the 
underprivileged and of awakening them to gifts repressed by 
circumstance which they hardly know they have. (In Mark 
Twain's amusing Captain StonnfielcTs Visit to Heaven, the 
greatest potential poet in history duly recognized as such m 


Problems of Diversity 

paradise, though only in paradise proves to have been a poor 
tailor from Tennessee who was laughed at in his village and 
never published a line.) This is as much a social as an educational 
task, to be solved, if at all, by the richness and variety of stimulus 
in American life as a whole. 

But these are not the main questions of this report. What de- 
ductions, rather, about general education are to be drawn from 
these facts? In view of these wide and deep differences, is a truly 
general education possible? We shall conclude by stating two 
broad propositions and then by sketching what seems to us the 
role of general education as conditioned by difference. 

The first proposition is at once a confession and a question 
a confession of ignorance and a question calling for answer. The 
line of reasoning in this report so far has been briefly this. First, 
our national life and, more broadly, our culture do in fact predi- 
cate certain traits of mind and ways of looking at man and the 
world. Second, these traits and outlooks embrace both heritage 
and change, which in turn correspond, though not exactly and 
certainly in no wooden, perfunctory way, to general and special 
education, the one concerned with the more slowly changing re- 
lationships \vithin knowledge as a whole, the other with its more 
quickly changing parts. Third, a successful democracy (success- 
ful, that is, not merely as a system of government but, as democ- 
racy must be, in part as a spiritual ideal) demands that these traits 
and outlooks be shared so far as possible among all the people, not 
merely among a privileged few. But, fourth, there exist in fact 
great differences among people, not only of opportunity, which 
have been and can be improved, but of gifts and interests, which 
either cannot be improved so quickly or, in the case of interests, 
are and should ideally be varied. Our ignorance, which seems to us 
a widespread ignorance, and our question, which is the question 
of the nation and age, follow these four steps as a fifth. It is, how 
can general education be so adapted to different ages and, above 
all, differing abilities and outlooks, that it can appeal deeply to 
each, yet remain in goal and essential teaching the same for all? 
The answer to this question, it seems not too much to say, is the 
key to anything like complete democracy. 


General Education in a Free Society 

As repeatedly said, in so far as our culture embraces a spirit of 
change and novelty, and in so far as special training, by equip- 
ping students with a thousand new skills, looks to this spirit of 
change, then our present diversified system fulfills in part the 
commands of democracy. But in so far as our culture is not 
wholly dedicated to novelty, as it certainly is not, but on the 
contrary rests on a view of the world and of man slowly built 
up, though never completed, over centuries, then our system by 
its very variety also slights the commands of democracy. The 
problem, then, to repeat, is not merely to foster the skills and 
outlooks which divide man from man according to their special 
gifts and different destinies but to develop also the traits and 
understandings which they must have in common despite their 

Though we do not know the answer to this question, we 
would venture a few remarks about it. First, as said earlier, it 
cannot be one over-all solution, since the whole problem is pre- 
cisely to reach differently gifted students of different ages and 
hopes. Further, it will be comparatively easy to reach the gifted 
and favored. The next chapter will be largely about them, the 
following wholly. They are the Jeffersonians, those who learn 
well in high school and many of whom go on to college. It is 
of course debatable what is the best general education for them. 
Our views on the subject may not find favor; certainly there are 
other current views. But, with time, some agreement, doubtless 
embracing many minor variations, would seem possible. After 
all, these are very gifted students, and it is hard to see how, given 
an experimental spirit and a serious will toward general educa- 
tion, one can go far wrong. What we have said and shall say 
about the facets of modern knowledge and the traits of effective 
thought is nothing new and, probably, on main points at least, 
nothing controversial. Thus the chief problem is not to discover 
the right general education for these able young people but for 
the less gifted not for those who go to college and to academic 
and technical high schools (however great an effort toward gen- 
eral education is needed in all three) but for the great majority 
in other courses, those who are in those courses precisely because 


Problems of Diversity 

of their lower facility with ideas. As was said in the first chapter, 
they are the people whom the totalitarian states have regimented. 
Yet democracy imposes on them, as on all, the task of responsible 
private judgment, and it is for the schools to fit them for this 
task by every possible means. 

The efficacy of mere courses for these students seems doubt- 
ful, but needless to say courses are important. They must not be 
simply watered-down versions of more complex courses but 
authentic and fresh vehicles of the spheres of general education 
the world, man's social life, the realm of imagination and 
ideal designed to implant the power of thought and expres- 
sion, the sense of relevance and value. They must avoid the ex- 
tremes either of talking down to students or of dazing them with 
abstractions. They must make increasing use of what appeals 
directly to the senses and clothes ideas with warmth movies, 
singing, plays yet never to the neglect of reading and discus- 
sion. They must grasp the nettle of simplifying the great writ- 
ings of our culture in such a way that they shall become a com- 
mon possession, a subject to which we shall return in the next 
chapter. Again, since the whole rise of vocational and manual 
courses has come about not primarily to train young people for 
jobs but as a means of reaching them through what they respect 
and think real, the carrying over of general education into these 
subjects has special importance. Students whom ideas will 
hardly touch will yet feel them in more specific forms mathe- 
matics when it turns up in some mechanical task, history when it 
touches some trade, design when it is a part of making, and speech 
and clearness of mind running through all. Hence follows the 
need already expressed for devoted and broadly educated teach- 
ers of these subjects, who will teach them with these higher ends 
in view. 

Further still, the whole life of the school must be such as to 
embody these higher ends. If some students will learn of democ- 
racy, for instance, partly through reading, all and the less 
gifted especially must learn of it also through action and by 
example. It has been said that one of the challenges of our age is 
so to rouse in students the sense of connection between ideas and 


General Education in a Free Society 

day-to-day action that their wills will be enlisted for what their 
minds accept, and for none has this point more importance than 
for those who see life primarily as action. Finally, when one 
reflects that great numbers of these young people have been un- 
employed if they left school, yet, if they stayed in school, have 
been exposed to a bookishness on which they did not thrive 
and when one thinks further of the number of local and national 
projects which need doing it seems that there must be some 
sound way of connecting these two needs. The C.C.C. of course 
attempted some such thing, but without tie with the schools, at 
great expense, and without great educational success. In many 
cities schemes of part-time work in local industries have been 
worked out but always with the danger that the good of the stu- 
dents shall come second and that the school shall sink into a kind 
of serf of industry. There seems place, then, for a system of 
projects, largely local, on which students might work under 
guidance and for pay until they can be employed full time. No 
doubt such a system would be resisted either as socialistic or as 
infringing on organized labor. We realize its possible dangers 
dangers like those which face our society at every turn: of frus- 
tration and human waste if nothing is done, of regimentation and 
state control if too much is done. Yet now that nearly everyone 
goes to high school the problem of these less gifted young people 
must be faced. It must not be faced condescendingly. The rec- 
ord of such people over history the simple-hearted, those who 
have done the unobserved work of the world is certainly at 
least as good as that of their more gifted and more tempted 
brethren. They are as worthy and as valuable democratic citizens 
as anyone else. The problem is to educate them by exactly the 
same ideals of schooling as everyone else, yet by means which 
shall be as meaningful to them as are more abstract means to the 
more abstract-minded. 

Our second general proposition can be stated more briefly. It 
has to do with the whole spirit and purpose of general, as opposed 
to special, education. Special education, by equipping people for 
certain specific tasks, is the more competitive in spirit and looks 
the more directly to worldly success. Or at least, to most students 


Problems of Diversity 

and probably to most adults, it seems to do so. To know how to 
do something is to put your foot in the door, to have a possible 
start in life. Once you are inside the door, to be sure, more im- 
ponderable qualities, of judgment and understanding, of perspec- 
tive and character qualities more akin to those of general edu- 
cationcome into play, and the more important the job the 
more importantly they come into play. Nevertheless, at first 
glance technical competence seems by far the first requisite for 
advancing yourself, and on any view it is at least a chief requisite. 
It therefore follows that an education not wholly given to tech- 
nical competence is an education not wholly looking to worldly 
success. There is no escaping that conclusion, nor on a moment's 
thought should there be desire to escape it. No society can be 
organized simply for the advancement of the fittest or, in the 
more polite modern term, for mobility. If it were, it would cease 
to be a society in the sense of Aristotle's famous definition: "The 
state originates in the need for subsistence; it continues through 
the wish for the good life." In so far as society looks to the good 
life, then it has common aims, the inculcation of which is at least 
as important a task of education as the furtherance of this or that 
individual. Ideally, indeed, the success of an individual is mean- 
ingless or harmful except as it is the mark of his superior service 
to the common good. In any case, competition and the common 
good both have place in education, and though here again there 
is no exact equivalence of the one to special and the other to 
general education, still it is clear that general education does 
represent a force in the curriculum, and ultimately in society, 
which is not in the main competitive. 

This point, finally, has bearing on the diverse interests of stu- 
dents noted earlier: bents for mechanics, for the arts, for ideas, 
for literal fact, or in a thousand other directions. It was said that 
these bents appear to be inborn in people independently of back- 
ground and walk in life, but that they are nevertheless drawn 
forth or repressed by background and even by the spirit of an 
age. If, then, general education does not reflect the competitive- 
ness of current life, neither should it reflect the narrowing of po- 
tential gifts which competitiveness enforces. On the contrary, it 


General Education in a Free Society 

should strive to enrich society by freeing the full scope of people's 
native gifts. No doubt there are limits to this giving of scope. 
The very idea of a common body of training and knowledge 
means that everyone, irrespective of his bent, owes a duty to his 
general sharing in the culture and to his membership in society. 
But some students will inevitably feel more drawn to some sides 
of their studies and others to others, and over and above the core 
of commonness, there should be chances for all to perfect what is 
in them. This need will prescribe the scheme of general educa- 
tion now to be set forth. An ideal but not impossible vision of 
American society might see it as made up of myriad smaller soci- 
eties representing between them all the arts and insights, all the 
duties and self-dedications, of civilized man. It would be in order 
that they might participate in some of these, quite as much as for 
making a living, that education would prepare young people, 
and this participation would in turn be the door to the good life. 

Basic Plan for the Schools 

IT therefore remains only to draw the scheme of general educa- 
tion that follows from these premises. At the center of it, at 
school and again at college, would be the three inevitable areas 
of man's life and knowledge which were sketched in the previous 
chapter and will be discussed in detail in the next: the physical 
world, man's corporate life, his inner visions and standards. That 
these should be taken up at school and again at college seems to 
us to follow both from their importance and from the quick 
growth of students in these years. But if so, the duty will rest on 
colleges to find ways of treating these great themes which will 
build on rather than duplicate what the schools have done. Ex- 
actly that, in effect, was argued in the previous chapter when it 
was said that, if these three areas differ not only in subject matter 
but in the values to which they look and in the methods which 
they follow, then mere encyclopedism is not enough, and the 


Problems of Diversity 

only adequate treatment of them will be one which concerns 
itself with values and methods quite as much as with facts. In 
other words, college courses on these subjects must be partly 
philosophic if they are to deal not only with information but with 
kinds of truth (e.g. the values and norms of literature as con- 
trasted to the demonstrable truth of science). The same holds of 
course to some extent for schools, and no teacher can shake the 
responsibility of making very clear what is involved in judgment 
and value on the one hand, and in fact and measurement on the 
other. But schools have, after all, a huge task of plain exposition 
to perform if students are to have in their hands the main tools 
and elements of knowledge, and, instead of repeating this work, 
colleges should move on to new relationships and new stages of 

In school, in our opinion, general education in these three 
areas should form a continuing core for all, taking up at least 
half a student's time. That does not mean that all should have 
exactly the same courses. In the present high school there is a 
great difference between general mathematics and algebra, be- 
tween English as studied by commercial students and English in 
a college-preparatory course, and what has been said of the 
range of ability among students justifies this distinction. But 
just here applies what was also said about the crucial need for 
new and authentic treatments of these great subjects, not simply 
waterings-down of harder courses, for the less able. Here, to 
repeat, is the basic question facing our school system, and on its 
success in answering this question the wider success of general 
education, as a bond between all future citizens and all sharers of 
the common culture, will largely depend. It can be objected that 
an education which is not shared by all exactly in the same way 
is not a truly common education. This objection has some force, 
since sharing of experience is certainly, within limits, an ideal of 
all education, notably in a democracy. Yet, if thoroughly carried 
out, this ideal would be disastrous. It would mean that in general 
education, and only in general education, would the quick and 
the slow be thrown helter-skelter together, the ones held back, 
the others forced beyond their speed, and neither satisfied. The 


General Education in a Free Society 

ideal of commonness must therefore show itself chiefly in a com- 
mon requirement rather than in a common way of carrying it 
out. There must be courses of different difficulty and different 
method in each of the three spheres of general education, and the 
criterion for membership in these should be neither a student's 
intentions in life nor his background nor the kind of diploma for 
which he is aiming, but simply whether or not a given course is 
the best for him which is to say, a criterion of ability. Extra- 
curricular activities and the general atmosphere of the school, 
both important for general education, are perhaps the only truly 
identical experiences, but even these will be stronger when they 
rest on common aims of study. 

It was said that this core of general education should, in our 
view, take up about half a student's time in school. Accepting the 
course-unit system as established, at least for the present, despite 
its grave weaknesses dwelt on earlier, that would amount to some 
eight units, preferably spaced by means of half-courses over the 
four years of school rather than compressed into two or three. 
The common and desirable division within these eight units 
would probably be three in English, three in science and mathe- 
matics, and two in the social studies. But and this is the im- 
portant point this half of the schoolwork to be spent on gen- 
eral education would seem the barest minimum, either for those 
not going on to college or for those who are. For the former, 
who will be ending their formal education, another course in 
each of the three areas seems nothing short of essential, and for 
the latter, who are going on, a deeper knowledge of one or more 
of the areas is not less so. Since this view is somewhat at variance 
with current practice, it calls for a word of explanation. 

If colleges increasingly take up the duty of general education, 
as it seems that they must, then those who go on to college will 
encounter it again there and at a higher and more complex stage. 
They will also commonly choose and follow at college some spe- 
cial field, and both for that reason and because even general edu- 
cation at college should draw from deeper roots, they must begin 
to lay down these roots in school. For example, general quite 
apart from special education in literature will mean more at 

Problems of Diversity 

college to those who have studied a foreign literature. A few 
perhaps, gifted themselves and sped by their families, may go 
equally far at school beyond the common minimum in all the 
three areas of general education. But most will presumably carry 
further one or preferably two of them, the scientifically-minded, 
for instance, going ahead to advanced courses in science and 
mathematics, the humanistic and literary laying a foundation in 
languages. More will be said in the next chapter on this parting 
of the ways beyond the common and shared core of general 
education. Were it not for the course-unit system, it might be 
possible for more of those going to college to carry forward, as 
students do in Continental schools, all their subjects on a com- 
mon front, though natural interest no doubt inevitably enters in 
and, under any system, some would prefer and carry further 
some subjects and others others. As it is not only through the 
system and from natural interest but through the growth of 
knowledge itself some pointing seems inevitable, and the wise 
scheme of schooling for those who go to college would seem 
one which, in some ways, resembles the scheme which we pro- 
pose for college itself: a core of common studies strengthened by 
more advanced work on one or more sides. But in school, need- 
less to say, these further studies should be less specialized than at 
college. We have argued from the start against a narrow special- 
ism and feel its dangers in schools particularly. Ideally, to be sure, 
college and even graduate specialism is only an extension along 
one avenue of the general aims of all education. But at school 
that should be transparently the case, and whether in the com- 
mon core or beyond it no course should lack that relevance to 
knowledge beyond its own limits which is the hallmark of all 
right education. 

Those, on the other hand, who will enter active life from high 
school will doubtless not often press on to this advanced work 
beyond the common core, and we have urged for them another 
course in each of the areas of general education. Foreign lan- 
guage, for instance, though necessary for much of college work, 
is surely of far less use to these young people than music or the 
arts or more English or more study of American life, and ad- 


General Education in a Free Society 

vanced mathematics is probably likewise of less use than more 
general science. If they do this added work in general education, 
something like a third of their high-school courses will still re- 
main. General education can be compared to the trunk of a tree 
from which branches, representing specialism, go off at different 
heights, at high school or junior college or college or graduate 
school the points, that is, at which various groups end their 
formal schooling. It seems an axiom of education in this age that, 
as they are about to enter active life, each group should be pre- 
pared for it in some special ways. The third of their high-school 
courses remaining beyond general education would then repre- 
sent that special training for these young people. Here would be 
the chance for vocational and business courses, for work in the 
arts, for agriculture and home economics and a thousand other 
practical fields. As said many times, even these courses are not 
wholly vocational in intent, nor is the break complete between 
them and general education. On the contrary, they should carry 
forward the spirit of it into these realms and for these young 
people, exactly as does further mathematics or language for those 
who are going to college. 

To change the earlier figure, general education at high school 
is like the palm of a hand, the five fingers of which are as many 
kinds of special interest mathematics and science, literature and 
language, society and social studies, the arts, the vocations. These 
fingers would stretch for all beyond the common core, and all 
would follow one or more than one. If, as urged earlier, actual 
work comes to take its place, for some, as a part of high school, 
that would be, illogically, yet a sixth finger. All, then, whatever 
their future intentions, would have the binding experience of the 
common core; and all would follow some field of special interest. 
Here, then, too broadly sketched to convey the warmth and 
color of actuality, is a scheme which accepts the claims of a com- 
mon culture, citizenship, and standard of human good, yet also 
the competing claims of diverse interests, gifts, and hopes. Cer- 
tainly some such scheme cannot be absent from American educa- 
tion if it is to produce at one and the same time sound people and 
a sound society. 



Areas of General Education; the Secondary 


Mark Hopkins and the Log 

WE come at last to the heart of the subject, the curriculum. It 
has been a long road, though, even as it is, we have pushed like 
hardened tourists through much that mutely asked for delay, and 
we have left out much. When every question is inexhaustible, it 
is hard to keep a sense of proportion. But whether too long or 
too short, these preliminary chapters have served, or were meant 
to serve, a strictly necessary purpose. It is fruitless to think about 
any such practical step as a curriculum without having in mind 
specifications or points of reference, in this case the ends toward 
which the curriculum should look and the students for whom it 
is intended. It is these two points of reference that we have tried 
to establish so far. The first is a view of society as depending on 
both heritage and change. The second is a view of students as 
both united and divided: united, as heirs of a common past and 
agents in a joint future; divided, as varying in gifts, interests, and 
hopes. From these premises comes an idea of education as, for 
all and at all stages beyond the earliest, both general and special. 
These two sides of education should be thought of as connected, 
the special forever flowing out of the general and forever return- 
ing to and enriching it. Certainly their separation maims and 
impoverishes each, since higher and more universal relationships 
are empty except as they bear on particulars, and particulars in 
turn run to chaos and conflict unless they find place in a larger 

General Education in a Free Society 

Because we have felt this need of connection between what is 
or should be common among human beings and what is particu- 
lar to each, we have been unwilling to lay down rigid rules for 
general education. We take, so to speak, a middle position in the 
Mark Hopkins-student-log debate. To talk only of Mark Hop- 
kins is to assume that all you need for a sound education is the 
inspiration and guidance of a gifted teacher, whatever he may 
teach. Few persons in our society play so indispensable a part as 
the instructor who is able to kindle in students a zeal for those 
qualities which education at its best represents and reflects. There 
is no educational reform so important as the improvement of 
teaching. But indispensable as the good teacher may be, it by no 
means follows that what he teaches is irrelevant. He is only the 
mouthpiece of the truth that speaks through him, and his value 
ultimately depends on how complete this truth is as judged by 
the only standards by which it can be judged: namely, the tradi- 
tions of our nation and culture. 

The other extreme is to think only of the log (here used, some- 
what freely, to mean the subject) and to say that, on the contrary, 
it is Mark Hopkins who is irrelevant since only the truth counts. 
This position we equally reject. That is, even as we believe that 
some subjects are more important and more universal than others, 
so we believe that they may legitimately be taught in different 
ways not only by different teachers but also by different in- 
stitutions. This belief follows from the apparently certain fact 
that the human mind is fallible and that no person or institution 
accordingly has a patent on the truth. It follows also from the 
differences amon^ students and from the consequent necessity 
that teaching, like the art that it is, cope with these differences. 
There thus devolves on teaching the double duty of setting forth 
a truth that is usable, in the sense of being adapted to students, 
and honest, in the sense of springing from inner integrity. And 
in this duty lies the work of all Mark Hopkinses, as responsible 
yet forever unique and individual interpreters of the common 

At bottom education is society perpetuating its spirit and 
inner form in a new generation. The Mark Hopkins-student-log 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

debate is therefore only the debate of society as to its own na- 
ture. The position which we have taken is our answer to what 
seems to us the crucial point in the debate: the question, namely, 
how far a free society must accept and inculcate common 

The question comes down finally to a definition of freedom. 
We believe that men are not in any genuine sense free to choose 
unless the fullest possible truth is presented to them. That is to 
say, freedom is not permission to flout the truth but to regulate 
your life in knowledge of it. One who has not learned and does 
not follow the laws of health is not free to be well, nor if he 
knows nothing of society is he free to be useful and happy in it. 
This view of freedom as willing acceptance of truth has its par- 
allel in religion, finding expression in such time-honored phrases 
as "in Whose service is perfect freedom." Yet if pressed to a 
conclusion, this very view leads to the paradox of a completely 
prescribed education to the denial of freedom in the name and 
for the purpose of freedom. Authoritarians do not find this 
paradox illogical, but the great majority of persons, we think, 
suspect with us that it is illogical. What are the grounds of this 
suspicion? They seem to be two: that the truth is not wholly 
known and that, even if it were, human nature is too fallible to 
justify any group of persons having power enough to prescribe 
rigorously the form of education. Democracy, however much 
it may imply trust in human nature, implies also suspicion of it. 
The system of checks and balances in the Constitution is designed 
to prevent control by any one group, and the Bill of Rights pro- 
tects the freedom to dissent. Both reflect the belief that the 
knowledge of any one group, however wise, is limited, and that 
room must therefore remain for correction and compromise. Yet 
since this view in turn, if pressed to a conclusion, would make of 
truth a purely relative matter and thereby take from society the 
possibility of any common standards, it too leads finally to para- 
dox and illogic. We therefore recognize the impossibility of 
either extreme. Freedom is submission to the best and fullest 
truth that can be known; yet it is also recognition that truth is 
not fully known. This is the position described in Chapter II 


General Education in a Free Society 

under the terms heritage and change. It makes place for both the 
log and Mark Hopkins, resting basically on the belief that our 
society and culture have indeed laid hold on common truths, 
knowledge of which is necessary for anything like a good and 
useful life, yet that, since our hold on truth is incomplete, we 
must forever look to new insights leading to change. 

Our argument, then, is that knowledge is dangerous and il- 
liberal if it does not embrace as fully as possible the mainsprings 
of our culture. We do not believe, for example, that education 
can safely be left with those who see our culture solely through 
the eyes of formal religion. Neither do we think this culture 
wholly reflected in any one list of great books, which, important 
as they may be in setting forth standards, necessarily neglect the 
relevance of these standards to the present. But we are equally 
suspicious of those empiricists who believe the truth is to be 
found only in experiment, a position that finally implies the 
denial of any stable truth. Without denying the partial value of 
any of these views, we believe rather that the main task of educa- 
tion is to interpret at all stages both the general and the particular 
both the common sphere of truth and the specific avenues of 
growth and change. And though the very existence of a free 
society depends, we believe, on some balance being kept between 
these two opposite sides of education, differences in carrying 
each out are not only legitimate but desirable. 

These views prescribe the nature of this chapter. Believing in 
this need for variation, we should have refused, even if we had 
been able, to prescribe in detail what high schools should teach 
as general education. On the other hand, simply to state general 
principles would be to leave our meaning unclear and to fail of 
whatever useful suggestions we are capable of giving. We shall 
therefore now go through the areas of general education already 
sketched, restating why they seem to us imperative and describ- 
ing what, in our opinion, is of first importance in each. Such an 
arrangement produces roughly the structure of a railroad train, 
car hitched after car, for which apology is offered. It runs the 
more serious risk of creating false impressions. Laziness always 
seeks some simplifying image, seeing the areas of knowledge 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

merely as aspects, three sides of a box, or as ingredients so 
much cream, so much sugar, so much coffee to be mixed in a 
cup. But there is no safe image for the full growth of the human 
mind. Neither the sciences, nor the social studies, nor the human- 
ities have to do exclusively with one side of its growth. All 
overlap and are interfused, however great may be the aptitudes 
and opportunities which each singly possesses. We have de- 
scribed their interrelation; now we shall describe them separately. 


The Humanities 

ENGLISH. One need not make the altogether excessive claim 
that the humanities are the whole of either liberal or general edu- 
cation in order to recognize their central importance. If we 
recommend that the study of literature continue through the 
four years of secondary school (though possibly not as a major 
or full-time subject in each year), we do not mean that literature 
is the only one of the humanistic studies which is legitimately 
part of the secondary curriculum. We do suggest that it is, for 
those years, the central humanistic study that it offers peculiar 
opportunities for achieving the goals previously set forth. The 
first of these opportunities is direct access to the potentialities and 
norms of living as they are presented to the mental eye by the best 
authors. All the other aims in the teaching of literature are sub- 
ordinate to this. All work in literature should be concerned 
chiefly with making these visions accessible. When they are 
seen, when the words open to the reader, the teacher's task is 
performed. Unless this direct view is to some considerable degree 
achieved, we have failed. Above all we must beware of getting in 
the light, between the work and the reader. Summaries or re- 
statements of what the masters were trying to say are often worse 
than useless. They can be mere dust in the learner's eye. 

A natural doubt thus rises at the start. If by "the best authors" 
we mean the best, rather than good contemporary writing, or 


General Education in a Free Society 

writing aimed expressly at different mental stages, or otherwise 
tempered to assumed limitations of experience in the readers, are 
not those "best authors" too hard too hard, that is, for school 
study under present conditions, large classes, lack of relevant 
background, teaching power, and the rest? The doubt is reason- 
able as well as natural. The greatest work stretches any mind. 
For young minds the stretching may never begin or it may be of 
the wrong sort. Questions of differentiation obviously enter. 
We should not sacrifice the interests of the many to those of the 
few. Nonetheless, it is legitimate to consider first what would 
be best for those most able to profit, making then what modifica- 
tions are required to suit the needs of others. 

The root argument for using, wherever possible, great works 
in literature courses is briefly this: ours is at present a centrifugal 
culture in extreme need of unifying forces. We are in real dan- 
ger, as the discussion in Chapter II has shown, of losing touch 
with the human past and therefore with one another. The rem- 
edy is not in more knowledge about the past. That has been 
piled up as such knowledge never was for any former generation. 
Its sudden, all but overwhelming, increase is one of our chief 
difficulties. The humanities as recently as the sixteenth century 
were a compact and compassable literature. They cover now not 
only all literature, philosophy, music, but also "anything that has 
anything to do with anything in the Metropolitan Museum," 
and have thereby ceased to be the bond and covenant between 
men that they once were. Not even the great scholar can any 
longer see the human story steadily or whole, and the epitome 
confronts the rest of us. As Shelley said, "Epitomes are the 
moths of just history; they eat the poetry out of it," and the poetry 
is our need. It is through the poetry, the imaginative understand- 
ing of things in common, that minds most deeply and essentially 
meet. Therefore the books whether in verse or prose, whether 
epic, drama, narrative, or philosophy which have been the 
great meeting points and have most influenced the men who in 
turn have influenced others are those we can least afford to 
neglect, if ways can be found of opening better access to them. 
It is a safe assumption that a work which has delighted and in- 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

structed many generations of ordinary readers and been to them 
a common possession, enriching and enriched, is to be preferred 
to a product which is on its way to limbo and will not link to- 
gether even two school generations. On the question of diffi- 
culty, it is relevant to refer to Mr. Whitehead's dictum in Aims 
of Education, "If it were easy the book ought to be burned, for 
it cannot be educational." 

Difficulty, of course, is mainly a matter of the preliminary 
steps, and we must always ask whether these steps are of the right 
kind as well as degree. The choice of early reading matter and 
its grading is, to be sure, a vast and downtrodden topic. We may 
note only three points for comment: 

Under-grading. With a view to "establishing the reading habit" 
great numbers of lower-level texts are now written in words and 
constructions which exact no reading effort from the learner, be- 
yond his endurance of verbal boredom, and offer him in content 
nothing whatever to strengthen his mental bite. Is it any wonder 
that he is at a loss later when he meets sentences which are trying 
to say something worth saying? 

Sub-English. Great numbers of texts in literature, history, social 
studies, and science, pored over through interminable classroom 
hours, are written in forms of English which would be intolerable 
out of a schoolbook. One gets tired of the refrain that the schools 
are trying to "teach the clear and simple expression of ideas" when t 
the prose so often used is a string of dead phrases without spring or 
balance, point or punch, fetid with the author's fatigue and the fog 
of terminology prematurely introduced. "Art affects us in our un- 
awares," said Bergson. So does lack of art. These pages are not ex- 
plicitly put before students as models of composition. Their excuse 
is the subject matter. But they have their effects nonetheless. It is 
a sound principle that all sentences to be closely studied in the 
schoolroom should be as well made for their purpose as the best 
writers can contrive. There will be enough bad models to contend 
with outside. 

Premature formulation. In another respect these texts often fail. 
They sum up too soon. It is right to let a student know roughly 
where he is going, but wrong to save him the journey. Too many 
courses tell him throughout what he is seeing, so that he memorizes 
the account of a trip which he never took. His head was buried in 
the guidebook. 

General Education in a Free Society 

To set out any detailed plan of successive reading here would 
lead to misapprehension. It is not part of the function of a uni- 
versity committee to suggest to schools what specifically they 
should do. We may put forward a policy, but there we should 
stop. The final ground of the policy for the study of literature 
here outlined is perhaps this: long-continued close contact with 
excellent work, the best of its kind, has a formative and ordering 
power especially upon minds still plastic, growing, and active in 
imitation. And for the teacher, whose position here is ancillary 
and whose contact with the work studied is much closer and 
longer-termed, the ordering influences are helpful too. The 
greater the work, the more support can he draw from the dignity 
of his charge, until the time comes when a society which would 
be free recognizes this too and gives him solid support. 

If we suppose this principle to be granted that nothing less 
than the best practicable literature is good enough for school 
study what recommendations as to arrangement and teaching 
and what warnings as to misdirections of energy can be offered? 
These questions have of late been much under discussion. Little 
that is new can be suggested and excellent reports on the same 
themes are readily available. It may therefore be best to cast this 
part of our report in summary form as minutes of the great 
contemporary debate. 

A representative report on the teaching of English as a lan- 
guage and literature would set forth these chief points. Among 
prevailing trends to be discouraged in the study of literature, it 
would list: 

Stress on factual content as divorced from design. 
Emphasis on literary history, on generalizations as to periods, 
tendencies and ready-made valuations in place of deeper fa- 
miliarity with the texts. 

Strained correlation with civics, social studies. 
Overambitious technical analysis of structure, plot, figurative 
language, prosody, genre. 

Use of critical terms (Romanticism, Realism, Classical, Senti- 
mental) as tags, coming between the reader and the work. 
Didacticism: lessons in behavior too closely sought. 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

These dangers are familiar to reflective teachers, as are their op- 
posite extremes: 

Superficial reading of too much, with no close knowledge of 

either the content or its import. 

Lack of any aids to the understanding of what is being read. 

Indifference to or ignorance of techniques of literature. 

Avoidance of critical terms and appraisals when the student is 

ready for them. 

Irresponsible attitude to the implications of what is being read. 

Among implications to be kept in mind would be: 

That division into intellectual, aesthetic and ethical components 

is for analysis only. The whole mind, in which these are not 

separable, is at work in literature always. 

That ethical results of literature are not to be seen as obedience 

to a body of precepts, but come in quickened imagination, 

heightened delight, and clearer perspective. 

That a common body of tradition to accept, to revolt against, 

either way to work from is our primary protection against 

ethical ignorance. 

On the choice and ordering of texts the main points would be: 

The limits of available time to be kept in mind. Less to be 
studied rather than more. Omissions to be planned, not settled 
by the accident of shortage of time. 

Old and new writing to be proportioned with regard to a two- 
way traffic between: 

(a) The new as more immediate and leading to the more re- 

(b) The old as explaining the tradition on which more difficult 
modern writing depends. 

The values of American and English literature and of other 

literature in translation to be balanced. 

Texts for classroom study to be supplemented by less difficult 

bpoks for outside reading. Guidance to be provided since a chief 

end sought is extensive discriminating private reading. 

Emphasis on mere number of books read or book reports made 

to be questioned. 

Proper liberty to be secured for teachers in choosing the texts 

they can handle best with enough organization to prevent 

undesirable duplication. 

Historical sequence to be followed only if illuminating to the 

literature read. 

General Education in a Free Society 
As means to developing better reading, stress to be laid: 

On intensive, close study of well-written paragraphs and poems 
which are saying important things compactly. 
On what a word is doing in a place on a page in addition to 
its dictionary sense and the dependence of this upon the con- 

On the normal ingredients of full meaning: the literal sense, the 
metaphoric implications, the writer's (or speaker's) mood, his 
tone, his intent, his attitudes toward his point, his reader, himself, 
his work, and other people and things. 

On the utility, almost the necessity, of metaphor; and-the fruit- 
fulness of intensive imaginative study of how the mind relies on 
parallels in all its doings. 

On paraphrasing of the thought of an original passage analyt- 
ically for purposes of elucidation, but not as an exercise of syn- 
onym-trading or as an attempt to compete with the literary 
quality of the original. 

On the value of reading aloud for interpretation, and of choos- 
ing poems and passages of lasting significance to be memorized. 
On the economy of reading at different speed and with different 
emphasis for different purposes. 

For improvement in writing and this goes largely for oral ex- 
pression as well stress on the following: 

Constant practice, with recognizable problems of expression 
graded to the shaping mind. 

Enough short exercises to permit of careful criticism and revi- 
sion without undue strain. 

Exercises close enough to students' interests to develop their 

Coherence, closeness of observation, integrity of purpose, fresh- 
ness of attack. 

Observance of minimum essentials in mechanics, the manners of 
discourse. Instruction where necessary in use of dictionaries and 
other references. (Handbooks of composition to be viewed as 
etiquette guides, rarely needed if literary upbringing is whole- 

Study of grammar only when it can be made to throw light on 
the workings of language and provide a convenient vocabulary 
for analysis of structural weaknesses in speech and writing. 

( ill) 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

Such is the consensus on the art and science of teaching English, 
a middle-of-the-road policy, far from being as inconsiderate as 
this current phrase for the golden mean might suggest. As a 
whole it aims to secure the maximum freedom for the teacher 
compatible with a coherent and reasonable order. In view of the 
peculiar relation described above between teacher, subject, and 
pupil in the study of English, there is no doubt that this freedom 
should be carefully guarded. 

But reasonable order is no less important. If the books read do 
not seem to the student to have any bearings one on another, we 
are losing endless educational chances. Granted that false or 
forced correlations can be a great evil, there is still room to plan 
sequences and groupings which will "make sense 1 ' (including a 
sense of proportion and direction) for the student. It is impos- 
sible to lay out any sound universal scheme for such arrange- 
ments, as impossible as it would be to write a specification for 
intelligent behavior. Conditions do and should vary and should 
be met with modified plans. Nonetheless, certain general prin- 
ciples suggest themselves to experienced teachers. 

For example, relatively simple narrative (The Jungle Books, 
Treasure Island, The Odyssey) and poetry of fairly open and 
uncompacted meaning will naturally come early. Bible narrative, 
myths, travel and adventure, as well as simple character studies, 
offer endless variety but should be kept on the highest possible 
literary level. Selections such as were made in the five books of 
Cambridge Readings in Literature show what samples of great 
writing can be assembled for provocative study from twelve 
years up. Drama and fiction asking for more analytic reflection 
would follow with more complex poetry. And prose discussions 
of fundamental theses (man and the state, the moral order, the 
problem of pain, the sources of delight, the essential family and 
social relationships) should not all be postponed to so late a 
period that the majority will have left school before they are 
taken up. No great bulk of reading on these themes should be 
attempted. They lend themselves preeminently to class discus- 
sion of short pregnant passages. Even though such work may 
seem to be over the head of many in the class, these slower minds 

General Education in a Free Society 

should not be allowed to leave without at least knowing that 
these topics are the prime preoccupation of maturer minds or 
without some idea, however vague, of what has been thought 
about them. A time will come for most when these matters will 
not seem so recondite. And here is a place to observe again that 
memorization of verse and prose at all stages is a device which is 
none the worse for being as old as teaching itself. 

There is a need for versions of the great works cleared of un- 
necessary and unrewarding obstacles and made by abridgment 
and reflective editing more accessible to general readers. We be- 
lieve that in the interests of teaching and public reading alike it is 
time for scholarship to turn some part of its best energies to the 
service of the present. Great books are being read increasingly 
in abridgments. If these are not made by scholars they will be 
made by relatively incompetent hands. Only the scholar knows 
enough to distinguish the parts of Homer, Plato, the Old Testa- 
ment, Bacon, Dante, Shakespeare, or Tolstoy which are essential 
to their value for contemporary general readers from the parts 
which concern only the special student. But the scholar, by his 
training, his competitive position, above all his professional ideal, 
is as a rule unconcerned with this problem. The sieving out of 
inessentials needed if these authors are to be read with profit by 
nonspecialists, or read widely at all, is a highly delicate process. 
A separation within the sentence is often needed, an extremely 
careful weighing of profit and loss, a balancing of one sort of 
clarity, scope, or fidelity against another. Only the mature 
scholar saturated with his author can judge of these things; only 
he can bring together the phrases which supplement and explain 
one another or cut out with a minimum of disturbance the ob- 
structive detail, the unimportant qualification, or the irrelevant 
reference. How far this process of clarification or simplification 
should be carried is, of course, in every instance the prime ques- 
tion. Nothing but a fine awareness both of the material and of 
the reader's resources will answer it. 

Administrative ordering of all this reading should not have 
coverage as its aim. It should not have even the avoidance of 
duplication merely as such in view. Most things worth study at 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

all are worth repeated study. Few things are more educative than 
a return to a text (which is not to be confused with a textbook) 
after some interval, to watch how another good teacher handles 
it. Fear of duplication is a sign of the fear that most teaching is 
likely to be bad. Two mistreatments of a book are of course many 
times worse than one. The real aim of administration here should 
be to see that as little inferior matter as possible is perused, and 
above all that what is read is timed to yield the most to the stu- 
dents. An external authority can never replace the instinct of a 
good teacher in close touch with the class. "Best for the class" 
is, however, a phrase which can hide all the problems. This 
policy puts immense responsibilities on the teacher who gets as a 
rule too little aid from the wise in carrying them. It is when 
reading programs are examined in detail that the principle 
stressed above that only the best is good enough for class 
study ceases to seem a truism and becomes a constructive 

In practice the choice of texts is embarrassed by many consid- 
erations, some administrative: admission to approved lists, library 
limitations, lack of suitable editions are among them, of which 
little in general can be said. Even more apt to interfere with ideal 
educational policy are certain consequences of the teacher-class 
relationship. Numbers of books are strong favorites because the 
teacher feels that with them he and the class have a good time. 
This is too often accepted as a decisive argument. The further 
question, "What sort of a good time?" is not gone into, or even 
raised. Yet this is clearly the important point. Valuable class- 
work is often, even usually, enjoyable. It does not follow that 
enjoyable times in class must be valuable. Doubtless in choosing 
texts nothing can replace, nothing has the authority of, teaching 
experience. But it must be examined experience, experience 
which has been put through a Socratic questioning to see whether 
it knows what it is. As things are, however, so sad a proportion 
of time spent on literature is plain boredom that attachment to 
anything which amuses is very understandable. A safe test per- 
haps might be this: let the teacher ask himself, "Am I needed for 
this enjoyment?" If the answer is "No, they would read it as 


General Education in a Free Society 

happily and as fully without me," then some other text which 
will not be enjoyed without the teacher's help should replace it. 
The choice unfortunately cannot be left to the pupil. He does 
not know the alternatives to be considered. 

The study of literature is throughout the study of language. 
Most of the English teacher's time and effort, whether he is aid- 
ing readers or not, should be concerned with language. But we 
must go further and say that all teachers of whatever subject 
have more than an incidental responsibility here. They will feel 
it in the degree to which they realize how many of their difficul- 
ties, and their students' difficulties, come from their own neglect 
of this duty. A misunderstanding is likely at this point. This is 
not a question of tackling spelling or grammar considered as a 
routine quasi-mechanical skill, or of "good English" in any 
vaguely general sense. It is a question of giving practice and 
help in understanding and using the English which is the indis- 
pensable medium of their own teaching. A science teacher, for 
example, is not u taking over what the English class should have 
done" when he gives time and labor to this. Parroting apart, the 
language as used in a subject is in practice indistinguishable from 
the subject itself. In working on it he is doing his own work, 
not the English teacher's work. Teachers of these subjects some- 
times are admirably equipped to help students listen and speak, 
read and write well. And they have relatively defined, simplified, 
and organized subject matters, which is no slight advantage. 

The great bane of science and social studies is mechanical 
repetition of uncomprehended words and phrases. Literature 
suffers less from this until critical, aesthetic, grammatical, or 
technical terminology is used. Then perhaps it suffers more. 
Teachers of the more exact studies in knowing their subject 
know its terminology and have at least better means of uncover- 
ing the meanings, or voids, which words and phrases contain for 
their pupils. Satisfactory exploration of literary terminology is 
so difficult that it should properly be postponed to the college. 
The science teacher can give a training in the understanding of 
precise technical language beyond the power of the English 
teacher, who has essentially to deal with fluid language, with 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

words and sentences which rightly and inevitably change their 
charges of meaning from context to context. It is their business 
to be variable and resourceful. In contrast the terms of science 
are fixed. Science aspires to use language rigidly, to keep the rela- 
tions of its terms to one another constant through definition. Its 
key words are terms in the logical sense, or have a one-one rela- 
tion to terms. Words in literature and nontechnical conversation 
are not terms in this sense, and we fall into endless confusion when 
we forget this. 

For these reasons the sciences are the preeminent field for log- 
ical studies, for practice in strict definition and the analysis of 
implication, for the dissection of misconceptions, for the remorse- 
less exposure of false or irrelevant ideas encysted in parroted 
phrases, and for the discharge of the morbid matter. Nowhere 
else can the student be so firmly forced to consider how he under- 
stands and how much, for nowhere else are such inescapable tests 
of understanding available. Therefore the science teacher's re- 
sponsibility for clarity of expression, for the examination of ob- 
scure phrases, is unique. It is his duty, moreover, to help the 
student (in collaboration with the English teacher) to see and 
remember clearly the difference between the rigid terms of sci- 
ence and the fluid language of literature and conversation, and to 
protect him from the misplaced technical jargon which is a dry 
rot in so much current talk and writing. The social-studies 
teacher, being from the position of his subject peculiarly exposed 
to this blight, has his part in this to play too. Instruction in lan- 
guage is thus inevitably a joint duty of all teachers. 

Nonetheless, the main weight of the task of induction into lan- 
guage falls on the English teacher. What can happen in the pupil 
depends very largely upon what is happening in the teacher. If 
he is uncharged with crisp meanings, little is likely to be induced 
in his hearers; whence, of course, most of our educational woe. 

More narrowly, if the teacher's works and ways of speech are 
limp or confused, he will fail in his main function, which is to 
excite attention to and care for the living word. Speech comes 
before reading and writing and should keep this priority. Read- 
ing and writing can indeed get in the way, and some current 

General Education in a Free Society 

trends encourage this displacement, eye-reading, for example, 
It is rapid. It is the right way of perusing the newspaper or most 
textbooks. The economies of time and effort which are possible 
by cutting down vocal and subvocal accompaniments have been 
rightly urged, and the work which goes to this end in schools 
is well spent. But literature is built with living words, not with 
graphic marks. It is represented speech of one order or another. 
Strictly silent reading, where no body of sound and vocal move- 
ment arises at least in verbal imagery, deprives the words of most 
of their powers. Their footprints will not do instead. This is 
most evidently true of poetry. It is remarkable how often a para- 
graph of argument or exposition which baffles a class will become 
pellucid to them when read as an organic whole by an intelligent 
voice which respects and reflects the sequences of the thought. 
What should be read how is a prime question for a teacher and 
the class to consider together. 

It seems likely that the opening up of print to the learner's 
eye very largely depends on the teacher's ability to read aloud in 
a suitable fashion. This is a neglected area in most teacher train- 
ing. There are dangers evidently. What is required is not elocu- 
tion but honest regard for the components and structure of the 
meaning. The teacher must understand as he reads and show 
what he understands in his reading. We may note here, more- 
over, that the power to attend to and criticize the spoken word, 
and all the implications and nuances of its utterance, has regained 
through the radio a public importance it has not enjoyed since 
the invention of printing. A modern society has become an audi- 
ence again. The relevance of this to the concept of freedom 
hardly needs stressing. 

Reading, vocal or silent, is an art. Our risk is to regard it as a 
mechanism. At the rudimentary stage, in the primary grades, we 
are content if the right sounds pop out smoothly in response to 
the graphic stimuli. This tends to make us assume, unwittingly 
and often incorrectly, that the right ideas too are invisibly pop- 
ping up in the reader's mind. There is a moral and many a 
parallel to be drawn here. At numberless points this false assimi- 
lation of lower and higher levels of activity misleads teaching. 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

For example, handbooks of composition frequently discuss the 
choice of the "right" word as though that were ruled by exactly 
the same principles as the use of the "right" (i.e. correct) spelling. 
Here is another instance of that instructive ambiguity of the 
word, right, which was noted in Chapter II. The first, the right 
word, is a matter of fitness to ends, but right spelling concerns a 
formal convention which for English, incidentally, is almost 
criminally defective. The result of such confusion is often deep 
frustration and lasting bewilderment in the pupil. Malapropism, 
the mistaking of one word for another, does have its analogies 
with misspelling, mispronouncing, and bad grammar. Conform- 
ing with a code governs all these. But which word best says 
what it is best to say is another matter altogether. It concerns 
choice of ends and judgment as to the fittest means, the highest 
human capacities. A bare rule as such has to be observed, that 
is all. 

Throughout the teaching of composition the separation of 
mechanical rules from animating principles is all-important. 
Composition, by pen or tongue, is largely a matter of imitation. 
But the word, imitate, straddles all levels. In spelling, in pro- 
nunciation, in punctuation, and in grammatical conformities we 
follow the letter, the surface routine. In everything which has to 
do with the shaping and expression of thought and feeling, "the 
letter killeth; the spirit giveth life." And if the models we put 
before them have no spirit our students' progress must be slight. 
If the reading matter we force them to attend to is not clear, 
forceful, well organized, and interesting as language, in addition 
to the interest of its content, we arc depriving them of the first 
instrument of their instruction. We are doing worse than this if 
we make them suppose we want them to imitate modes of speech 
or writing whose aim and virtue they have not even felt. Com- 
position, then, is a matter of good models, in speech and writing, 
and intelligently graded discussion of what makes them good. 
Hence the importance we have stressed above of the choice of 
the best for classroom study. 

Foreign Language. There is probably no educational problem 
about which there is more confusion and disagreement than the 


General Education in a Free Society 

role of foreign language in secondary education. Experienced 
teachers vary between the extreme poles, between, that is, the 
view that foreign language has no appropriate place in general 
education, and, on the contrary, that it includes the truly essen- 
tial subjects. 

One of the claims most often made by those who urge a con- 
siderable experience with foreign language is its value for the 
understanding of English and its help in developing a mastery of 
English composition. It is certainly possible, without great ex- 
pense of time, to make comparisons between English and other 
languages which yield fruit of the utmost value. To learn that 
other languages have words with meanings which no English 
word carries, that they sort meanings in other ways and link 
them up in other patterns, can be a Copernican step, one of the 
most liberating, the most exciting, and the most sobering oppor- 
tunities for reflection that the humanities can offer. And with it 
can come, through etymology, a widespread vivification of the 
learner's interest in English, a sense of the omnipresence of tradi- 
tion, of the connections of thought with thought kept alive, 
sometimes against our wishes, by tradition, a sense of the de- 
pendence of any one mind upon the vast anonymous work of art 
his language is, of its limitless past, its vagarious history, the 
mysteries of its growth and his responsibility to it. All this and 
much more a first exploration of the connections between Eng- 
lish and other languages can give. Sometimes an English word in 
its varying senses ("idea" or "right," for example) can compact 
within itself as it were and give a foretaste of a whole philosophy 
which masterpieces little more than spell out; or a word like "in- 
comprehensible" or "believe" will lend itself modestly to record 
the most daring efforts of homemade thought, as though all that 
the mind could do were to catch up with the dictionary. 

It might seem, then, that the learning of other languages were 
an essential part of work in the humanities. For at the other end 
of the course the values of work in translation are recognized. 
There is no better practice in reading or in writing English than 
translation, provided the translator knows the other language 
sufficiently well. Our italics point to the fact that with most 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

translation work in school this condition is unfulfilled. Between 
the first Copernican step and the profitable translation work 
comes the long labor under the taskmaster rule, and few of the 
many who begin this labor finish it. Few, that is, bring their 
grasp of another language to a point where it has both an ex- 
plosive and a disciplinary effect on their English (as Shake- 
speare's Latin, for instance, put into his hands the huge mass of 
English words deriving from Latin which he then manipulated 
and remade freely yet with a certain limiting tact for root mean- 
ings). Few, moreover, lay hold through another language of 
cultural traditions surrounding and augmenting their own. 
Those who thus fail to bring language to the kindling point are 
certainly wasting their time perhaps not absolutely, in the sense 
that they have learned nothing, but at least relatively, in the sense 
that they might have learned more from something else. Yet 
for those for whom language is the opening of doors, either as 
respects words in the time-honored way of poets and writers or 
as respects cultures in the way of historians, it is essential. In- 
deed, they are essential since any society, for want of a certain 
number of persons so educated, slips into insularity. 

The main problem, then, in teaching foreign languages seems 
to be this: how may many, perhaps most, students be brought to 
take what we have called the Copernican step the step, that is, 
of realization that structure is the skeleton of all speech, not 'just 
their own, and that words carry history with them? And how, 
in addition, may the comparatively few who can and should go 
further press on to a firm and fruitful grasp of language? 

We pause here to interject a distinction which, because it is 
often not clearly grasped, greatly vexes discussion of language 
teaching, the question, so to speak, of context and intention. 
Language is sometimes studied as a tool for instance, German 
by prospective scientists who will need access to technical writ- 
ings in German, 1 or Spanish by persons looking forward to a 
job in South America. For obvious reasons such study has made 

1 For serious work in the natural sciences, mathematics, engineering, and 
medicine, German has hitherto occupied a unique position among the foreign 
languages. It must be remembered that not only the German but much of the 

General Education in a Free Society 

enormous strides during the war. Its relatively clear and simple 
goal has come to be matched to relatively exact procedures: 
notably, intensiveness (namely, headlong, though briefer, im- 
mersion in a language, so that students shall live for a time in the 
very atmosphere of it) and the direct method (speaking the 
language from the start so that it shall become, so far as possible, 
a living habit rather than a bare conceptual scheme). But pre- 
cisely because such strides have been made in teaching language 
as a tool, it is sometimes assumed that that is the only purpose for 
teaching language. That is not the case. Greek and Latin, as 
dead languages, and many living languages also, are studied not 
as tools but for the cultural ends mentioned in the last para- 
graphs. One could of course say that Latin was a tool to 
Shakespeare or Milton or that French is such to those who read 
Montaigne or Molicrc. But to say that is to cavil, for the reason 
that even in the act of studying these languages students are con- 
cerned with more than language itself. They are concerned with 
the very stuff of the humanities, with timeless writings, with 
other cultures, and with the ever-changing meaning of words. 
Evidently, then, these two reasons for studying a foreign lan- 
guage as a tool and as a part of humanistic education are dis- 
tinct, implying distinct methods and looking to distinct ends. 

Language as a tool hardly falls under the humanities, and it 
might be said that it is more closely allied to special than to gen- 
eral education. It is of course true that a person who has learned 
German for scientific reasons may go on to read Schiller. It is 
also true that any study of language, however narrowly pursued, 
must have an effect on a person's native speech. At least it is 
hard to imagine anyone of so obdurately practical a bent that, in 
learning a new language, he fails to draw comparisons, note 
etymologies, and in general improve his speech by fresh experi- 
ence in putting words together. Language has this in common 
with travel that it inevitably raises contrasts. But there is no 
nook or corner of knowledge which will not bear in the same 

Scandinavian, Dutch, Swiss, Polish, and Balkan work, as well as that of Russian 
and Oriental investigators, is, or was until recently, published in full or abstracted 
in German. 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

way on general education, given the intention to make it do so. 
We shall therefore say nothing further of language as a tool, 
except that it will in fact prove to many a necessary tool which 
they will have to gain when the need for it arises. Colleges will 
doubtless increasingly offer intensive courses, especially in sum- 
mer sessions, when, conscious of their need, students may repair 
it as quickly and effectively as possible. Such courses will be 
harder to institute in schools, where the curriculum is less flex- 
ible. But as the experience of the armed forces in teaching 
language has shown, the first and indispensable prerequisite is 
motive, the sense that a language is necessary, and when this 
sense is present (as with the hopeful young scientist taking up 
German), the learner will make good progress even without the 
best intensive methods. What is to be avoided at all costs is study 
of language which neither makes it a tool nor adds to humanistic 
education, dim, perfunctory plodding, without clear goal or 
tangible results. 

To return then to the earlier point, there are, so far as general 
education is concerned, two distinct stages in teaching language: 
what was called the Copcrnican step, for many, and a deeper 
grasp of language in connection with literature and history, for a 
comparatively few. It remains to speak briefly of each of these 

Enough has been said of what is meant by the Copernican step, 
and of how liberating its expansive influence can be on a student's 
understanding of his native speech. The question now is how 
such a step can be brought about. Much has been done in recent 
years with so-called "general language," which is study of the 
structure of other languages, both related and unrelated to Eng- 
lish, and also of the origin of words. Its virtue is that it aims 
frankly and openly at what any study of language in general 
education should accomplish at this stage: namely, at illuminating 
English. Its weakness may be that it is too academic, too con- 
sciously the fruit of research, for the ninth grade that it, so to 
speak, talks down to students by merely offering them informa- 
tion without rousing in turn their own powers of performance, 
as the study of a single language can do. Trial will make clear 


General Education in a Free Society 

how useful the method is. If it survives, it may well become the 
core of English teaching in the first year of high school. 

Meanwhile, the teaching of a single language will remain far 
the commoner way of giving perspective to English. There are 
few subtler tasks than this early stage of language teaching. 
Moreover, it is hard to estimate, since its results should appear 
primarily in a student's English, not in his grasp of the new lan- 
guage. The reason why this should be so lies in the whole history 
of the English speech. The tribes which early mingled on the 
British Isles evolved a progressively more simplified speech lack- 
ing the genders and most of the case endings. Hence followed 
the extreme dimness of English grammar and syntax. But the 
close ties between England and the Continent, particularly after 
the Norman conquest and throughout the Renaissance, enor- 
mously enriched the language, supplying a synonym of Latin 
origin for virtually every Germanic word in the tongue. Hence 
arose the staggering size of the English vocabulary, hence also 
the subtlety and allusiveness of English as characteristically used 
by those who have fully felt its potentialities. The result is that, 
whereas an ordinary Frenchman can read Racine and an ordinary 
German, Schiller, an ordinary Englishman or American has 
much greater trouble with Shakespeare. To return, then, to the 
early stages of language teaching, its prime function is not to 
give a practical command of the new language; on the contrary, 
it is to illuminate English in these two respects in which English 
supremely needs illumination, namely, syntax and vocabulary. 

This need explains and largely justifies the traditional use of 
Latin or French in the late primary or early secondary years. 
The somewhat mystical superiority of intellectual discipline 
which has been claimed for these languages, especially Latin, 
may be largely false. Nevertheless, as regards syntax, they are 
far clearer than English, and it is precisely this clarity which is 
wanted from them, to be reflected back, so to speak, on English. 
For this reason they should come early rather than late in the 
curriculum, preferably in the seventh or eighth grade, where it is 
arguable that they should even be substituted for English. At 
least, the advantages to school English if more students came to 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

it with some experience of syntax and some sense of the root 
meanings of words would be enormous. 

But the precondition of any such gain is that teachers fully 
understand and never forget the reasons why a foreign language 
should be taught at all at this early stage which reasons, to 
repeat, have chiefly to do with a student's growth in his own 
speech, not in the foreign speech. Yet young people have definite 
minds, and to be told that they are studying a language and yet 
somehow not studying it could be confusing, to say the least. 
Hence their progress must inevitably be measured to some extent 
by the new language rather than by the English. Here is at once 
the danger and the advantage of studying a single foreign speech 
as opposed to general language. The danger is that it shall be 
studied only for itself without relevance to English, as general 
language clearly is relevant. The advantage is that a single speech 
is something definite for students to grasp, an intellectually 
coherent system fixed in history and appealing both to their logi- 
cal powers and to their imagination of mankind and of the past. 
The teacher who would escape this danger and reap these advan- 
tages has the complex task of interpreting a foreign culture 
through its language and, at the same time, of rousing the sense 
of structure and vocabulary as common to all language. This 
task calls for tact, knowledge, and sense of proportion of a very 
high order. Yet given the history and nature of English per- 
haps even the nature of the human mind which learns the familiar 
only by experience with the unfamiliar few tasks are more 

Finally, a relatively small number of the many who have thus 
begun a foreign language for the sake of their English should go 
further. We are not here thinking of those already mentioned 
who will pursue language as a tool, but rather of those for whom 
it should be the path and guide to deeper understanding of the 
humanities. The relation of language to the humanities is in 
many ways like that of mathematics to the sciences. Both mathe- 
matics and language exist, so to speak, in their own right (mathe- 
matics no doubt to a greater degree than language), yet both arc 
at the same time doors to neighboring studies. As many students, 


General Education in a Free Society 

at something like the second or third year of high school, will 
turn in the direction of mathematics and science, so others will 
turn to language and literature. That is not to say that general 
education in both fields should not be continued for each of 
these groups, but simply that one group will find its natural 
home in the one field and the other in the other. Those, then, 
whose serious interest is in the humanities have, as it were, a 
double task to perform, even beyond their work in English. 
They should attack language as intensely as those for whom it is 
merely a tool (for why should they go on at all if they are not 
to achieve some such firmness of grasp? ) . Yet they must at the 
same time find in language more than a tool an insight into an- 
other culture, a vision of the history of ideas, something which in 
depth and vitality far surpasses translations. 

What should be the languages to be pursued in this spirit? 
German and Spanish will presumably be studied largely as tools. 
The French or Latin begun earlier will be for many the natural 
avenue of this further humanistic study, and they should be 
taught with this intention and this alone. But a word should be 
said of two other languages, Russian and ancient Greek. One 
need hardly dwell on the greatness of Russian literature or on the 
import of Russian thought and history for any future that we can 
foresee. Begun in the last years of school, Russian should give 
something like a new dimension to the work of some students 
chiefly interested in literature or in history and the social studies. 
The same is true in a slightly different, though not less important, 
sense of Greek. General education will only make more clear 
the fundamental place in our culture of the great Greek writings. 
Philosophy, political theory, many branches of literature, even 
as they largely began for us in these writings, so inevitably return 
to them for comparison and refreshment. Though the great 
majority of students will come to know these writings in transla- 
tion, still general education will fail of part of its function unless 
it leads some to that vividness of understanding which only the 
original can inspire. This, in short, is the purpose of all further 
study of language in general education to give to some that 
vitality in humanistic training which others will gain in scientific 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

training and which, so far as schooling can assure insight, is the 
root of insight. 

The Arts. For the purposes of general education art should be 
experienced in as many forms as possible from earliest infancy. 
By the arts we mean chiefly music, painting, drawing, and 
modeling. We do not of course deny the value of the dance, 
architecture, and the rest of the arts; but we are now concerned 
with general education in the schools and with what has been and 
can be usually taught there. It may be doubted whether formal 
courses in these subjects should be required of students in the 
secondary schools, although some circumstances may justify 
such a prescription. But the absence of required courses, or of 
any courses at all, should not mean an absence of musical or 
artistic experience. The happiness of many, perhaps of nearly 
all, people will be enhanced or diminished by the presence or ab- 
sence of aesthetic sensitivity to music and the fine arts, as well as 
to literature. 

The arts bring delight; they train the emotions; they develop 
understanding. For instance, skill in drawing and painting sharp- 
ens our visual perceptions so that we can see better and see more 
in the realm of color, form, and space. More generally, in all the 
arts including music (with its cultivation of auditory perceptive- 
ness) the mind is enabled to rise above the literal and the obvious 
and to grasp the resonances and the overtones of experience. It 
is usually said that art is the discernment and communication of 
beauty. Such a statement is sound in the double sense that it 
makes clear that art is not a preoccupation with one's private 
state, and that art is more than a manipulation of colors, sounds, 
and other materials. Yet the term, beauty, limits the scope of art 
unduly; beyond the beautiful the artist is concerned to discover 
and express any variety of value in things. 

Thus, instruction in the arts should be viewed as a part of gen- 
eral education. The arts appeal to the mind through the senses, 
enabling the young to understand their heritage in the most direct 
fashion before reason has matured. The progress of the mind as 
it unfolds in time is from nonverbal thinking to conceptual think- 
ing and finally to the grasp of the variable mathematical symbol. 


General Education in a Free Society 

The arts give a meaning to our heritage for those who might 
never gain an understanding of it through abstract concepts. 
And when reason has become mature, the arts reinforce what is 
already grasped conceptually, by giving it sensuous embodiment. 
The word, appreciation, is much in vogue in any reference to the 
aim of courses in art. This term has been designed presumably to 
mean something between understanding and feeling and mostly 
succeeds in conveying neither. To study the world's artistic 
heritage is to educate one's mind by partaking of the insights of 
the masters, as well as to experience sheer delight. But introduc- 
tion to heritage is only one aspect of learning. Here we come to 
the contribution of the individual mind. The masters are not 
models to be imitated in a mechanical fashion; their value for the 
pupil is to deposit a seed in his mind which may grow into a plant, 
small or large. What is learned must be so mixed with one's own 
substance that it will issue into new and personal forms. 

We must be on our guard so as not to confuse individuality 
with subjectivity. In a natural reaction against the concept of 
verisimilitude in the arts, the teacher today urges the pupil to 
pour out his soul on the canvas as spontaneously as possible. Yet 
aesthetic work is not self-expression but self-transcendence, as 
when an actor projects himself into a role. The cult of self- 
expression in the arts is partly the result of a reaction against 
Puritanism which has overreached itself. Doubtless all learning 
must be absorbed into the tissue of individual experience, since 
man is a living being growing from within out. Yet work in the 
arts is significant in the measure that it has submitted to discipline. 
It is not a case of an alien force imposing arbitrary restrictions. 
The discipline comes from the very nature of the materials used 
by the artist, such as color, space, clay, and sound; and it comes 
from the structure of the object which is revealed. The word, 
imagination, tends to mislead our mind, suggesting as it does mere 
inventiveness. In fact, the imagination discloses to the mind a 
realm of ideal possibility and of value. The artist does not create 
this realm; he discovers it and, upon entering it, obeys the rules 
of the realm. 

To recapitulate, instruction in the arts consists of three phases 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

first the reception of heritage from the past, second the reac- 
tion of the individual mind upon this heritage with a view to the 
enhancement of present experience, third the opening of the eyes 
of the mind outward to the universal realm of value. We are not 
suggesting that the three phases need follow one another in this 
order. In many cases, the heritage of art is better understood 
after the pupil has already familiarized himself with the natural 
beauty around him. 

Art is the merging of idea and feeling with concrete material; 
no wonder, then, that Platonists and Puritans have so often 
feared art. An aesthetic conception is inseparable from its ma- 
terial embodiment. In painting, the artist is thinking and feeling 
with the tips of his fingers; and, generally, in the arts learning is 
bound up with doing. Thus, art by its very nature makes the 
transition which we have described by the term, relevance. A 
pupil who sings or plays an instrument is thereby helped better 
to understand and appreciate fine points in the literature of 
music. Beyond all the other arts, architecture is committed to the 
task of making relevant judgments in complex situations. A 
painter may claim to inhabit Bohemia, but an architect, normally, 
must live in the everyday world. In planning the construction of 
a house, he must consult not only his taste but his client's domes- 
tic needs and the limitations imposed, for instance, by economic 
factors and those of geographical location. 

Finally, instruction in the arts has a bearing on other traits of 
the person beyond those of his intelligence. In this world we 
have to live with others and with ourselves; we need the virtues 
both of society and of solitude. Such an art as music cultivates 
the social skills. To sing in a choir or to play in an orchestra is to 
merge oneself with a larger and disciplined whole without, how- 
ever, losing one's own individuality. For it is by virtue of 
playing a definite and individual role that one contributes to the 
effectiveness of the organization. And inasmuch as in music 
there are no explicit ideas at all, there is no scope for controversy 
or dispute either. Thus the arts contribute to a welding of 
human beings whom other influences would pull apart. Individ- 
uals who differ in their intellectual abilities can all respond to the 

General Education in a Free Society 

sensuous appeal of the arts. Communal festivals or religious 
rituals are cases in point. Now the arts have been defined as an 
expression of the play impulse, and indeed the same rhythm of 
society and solitude is illustrated in the world of sports. In foot- 
ball, for instance, the individual must adjust himself to an organ- 
ized group. But fishing is a lonely sport. The individual is apart 
from his fellow men: all alone in the presence of the glassy or the 
rushing waters, he has the chance to ponder deeply, since even 
the fish may be away. Fishing fosters not only philosophy but 
the arts as well, notably the art of fiction. 

In turning to some of the methods suitable for teaching the 
arts in the schools, we shall begin with the pupil who expects to 
make a career in art. We deplore the frequent practice of putting 
the gifted pupil in an art school almost from the outset. Here we 
revert to some of our earlier remarks. An artist cannot become a 
great or even a good artist unless along with technical skill he 
has a certain range of human experience and understanding. To 
deprive him of a general education is to diminish his chances of 
artistic growth. And should it turn out later on, after he has had 
an exclusively artistic education, that he is not suited to a career 
in art, he will lack the general equipment and flexibility to change 
to another career. But the schools must make special adjustments 
for the gifted pupil. Since, particularly in music, professional 
training must begin at an early age, he should not be required to 
take so many academic courses as are usually prescribed. 

However, our primary concern is with the pupil who is receiv- 
ing a general education and does not propose to become a special- 
ist in the arts. The important question is what he will be like 
when he has grown to be a mature person, and whether instruc- 
tion in the arts has given him something which will be available 
to him all his life. Is the usefulness of school instruction in the 
arts to be measured by considering what skills he has acquired 
which he can use in his leisure, or in terms of a more indirect and 
more general enrichment of experience? Probably it should be 
measured in both ways. For instance, the student who is not to 
become a professional musician may nevertheless learn to sing or 
play an instrument as an amateur. The case of drawing and 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

painting is different. It is said that Mr. Churchill is an accom- 
plished painter, and that when, owing to the vicissitudes of po- 
litical life, he is out of power, he spends a good deal of time in 
painting. But very few of us will have a chance even to resign 
from great office; and few nonprofessional pupils can be expected 
to acquire enough skill in school to be able to go on painting 
with pleasure to themselves, much less to others. 

For the purposes of general education in music the advantages 
of choral singing are obvious. Children sing naturally and almost 
all children can sing. Of course, for many playing an instrument 
affords an admirable musical outlet. But singing is the utterance 
of oneself through tools provided by nature. There has been an 
unfortunate tendency in the schools to concentrate on the im- 
parting of musical techniques and on the reading of musical nota- 
tion. This is too theoretical. Practice should precede theory, and 
theory when it comes should be pertinent to the practice 
achieved. The pupil must first be given musical experience: 
listening to music and, even more, participating in it. Correla- 
tively it is important to develop the taste of the pupil, and for 
this reason it is essential that he should be provided with music 
of the highest standards. When the music is of poor quality, he 
is soon bored. Nor is it necessary that the music be spectacular, 
impressionistic, or even romantic in order that it be intelligible 
and interesting to him; the young have a natural liking for 
rhythm and melody, easily found in the works of the great 

When we come to the question of the other arts, the situation 
is different. Oftentimes a youngster who has a knack at repro- 
ducing the outer look of physical objects or persons is hailed as 
a potential genius and urged to make a specialty of painting. Yet 
it is possible that lacking, as he well may, imagination and depth, 
such a youth will be a failure. Nonetheless, the current practice of 
letting and even urging the pupil to be as "creative" as possible 
must be deprecated. It is surely a paradox that, whereas a stu- 
dent of the piano is obliged to spend long hours laboriously ac- 
quiring craftsmanship, it is assumed that one may use colors or 
draw by relying solely on natural gifts. Instruction in drawing 


General Education in a Free Society 

and painting should include courses designed to give an under- 
standing of the principles of color and form. One who has ac- 
quired the relevant knowledge and taste will then have no need 
of the specialized vocational courses as, for instance, those in 
household decoration. An aesthetic education will give a young 
person standards which he can apply to particular situations. 
The purpose of general instruction in the arts is to help the stu- 
dent to bring to bear his aesthetic taste upon his daily living. 
Our houses and our factories, our cars and our bridges, can be 
made to combine an adaptation of means to ends with a con- 
formity to aesthetic norms. Only the existence of an artistically 
educated lay public can guarantee this. Now that the patrons of 
art are no longer princes, peers, or even the great rich, but come 
from the larger public, it is of the highest importance for the 
interests of the professional artist himself that the lay public have 
discriminating taste. 


The Social Studies 

WHEN Aristotle said that "man is by nature a political animal" 
he did not mean that man invariably seeks public office or habitu- 
ally engages in what we may think of as the activities of the 
politician. He meant, rather, that civilized man lives in a politi- 
cally organized society, that only in such a society can he live a 
satisfactory life. Fie was reflecting the doctrine of his teacher, 
Plato, and of his teacher's teacher, Socrates, as also when he said 
that "virtue and goodness in the state are not a matter of chance 
but the result of knowledge and purpose." Not all people were, 
in his estimation, adapted to the highest form of civic life. But 
even among those whose capacities fitted them for life in society, 
their natural endowments were but the beginning. "All else is the 
work of education, we learn some things by habit and some by 
instruction." Like Plato and Socrates before him, he believed 
with unquestioning faith that education for life in organized 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

society is essential to the well-being of the state. It is, in other 
words, a condition of the good life for all citizens. 

The education which seeks to promote active, responsible, and 
intelligent citizenship is ordinarily general rather than special 
education. It is not, to be sure, reserved for formal education 
since the shaping of the future citizen takes place mainly at 
home, at church, on the street or playground, before and outside 
of school and college. But neither the school nor the college can 
defensibly fail to attempt the promotion of the kind of citizen- 
ship upon which the well-being of our entire way of life depends. 

Nor do the social studies include all those which have a very 
real bearing upon life in society. In some measure every subject 
in the curriculum helps achieve this great goal of general educa- 
tion. But the social studies have a more immediate relationship to 
civic education than do the other studies of the secondary-school 
years, and even though they are concerned with other aspects of 
general education than training for a life of civic responsibility, 
this is their distinctive justification. 

As was remarked, the schools are far from being the only 
agencies concerned with the development of citizenship. In this 
area, as perhaps in no other with which the schools deal, their 
work is intimately related to that of a number of nonacademic 
organizations. The Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the 4-H clubs, 
the Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A., as well as many other religious and 
civic groups, often do more toward instilling an attitude and habit 
of responsibility than the schools can ordinarily accomplish. In 
some school systems, both rural and urban, certain of these 
activities have been closely tied to more formal schoolwork, 
usually to the advantage of both. Certain localities have experi- 
mented with a kind of civic apprenticeship which seeks to intro- 
duce the boy or girl directly into the field of adult civic activities. 
But whether youth organizations are entirely separate from the 
school or are closely affiliated with it, many of them unquestion- 
ably succeed in bringing students at an impressionable age into 
some direct touch with civic life, and in giving them a vivid 
sense of its opportunities and its obligations. 

In addition to formal studies most schools have various more 


General Education in a Free Society 

or less extracurricular activities which contribute to the aims 
here being discussed. Many offer programs of lectures and dis- 
cussions which help stimulate an interest in public affairs. Stu- 
dent government may be an introduction to the methods and 
responsibilities of politics. School forums and debating societies 
are ordinarily concerned with public issues and play an important 
role in the development of a great many boys and girls who 
become leaders in their generation. Interested and energetic 
teachers are often able to establish and encourage current-affairs 
clubs, discussion groups, and mock political conventions. 

The value of such activities, whether inside or outside the 
schools, can be, and indeed frequently is, enormous. Nothing 
that we shall say about the value of formal training should be 
taken to reflect any doubt in our minds as to the debt which our 
society owes to such organizations and such methods of acquaint- 
ing boys and girls at an impressionable age with some of the vital 
relationships and obligations of social life. We believe, indeed, 
that their importance will be greater in the future. 

But if we recognize the value of these activities, we must also 
recognize their limitations. It is rare that such organizations or 
activities can help develop materially that sense of perspective 
which ordinarily follows only upon the study of instances and 
ideas removed in space, and usually in time as well as in space, 
from immediate experience. What was earlier said about famili- 
arity with the traditions of our civilization is as pertinent to the 
teaching of citizenship as to the study of literature. Political 
wisdom has always been founded in some part upon knowledge 
of the past, and upon comprehension of those values which are 
either implicit in institutions or which have been nobly expressed 
by statesmen and philosophers. To say this is not to question the 
value of an understanding of immediate political and economic 
affairs. It is only to say that a study of immediate problems is 
ordinarily inadequate since the immediate problem is itself, in 
some measure, the product of tradition and of inherited ideas. 
We urge not the necessity of antiquarianism, but rather that kind 
of education which, specifically directed at wise and responsible 
citizenship, includes the formal study of history and the social 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

sciences. Interest in, and good will toward, civic affairs are in- 
valuable but inadequate. 

The need for differentiation, discussed in the previous chapter, 
will probably result in certain variations of subject matter in the 
social studies with different groups of students. It is of course 
clear that the goals remain the same. But differences in back- 
ground and in intellectual competence will call for variety in 
materials and teaching methods. As between those students who 
are preparing for college and those who do not expect to con- 
tinue their formal education beyond high school, we see but 
slight grounds for differentiation in subject matter. Those whose 
formal education ends with high school, as well as those who in- 
tend to go on to technical institutions or to liberal colleges, need 
that cultural literacy which springs only from the study of his- 
tory. All of them should be given some sense of the nature and 
value of the inheritance which they did not achieve but which 
they must help maintain, as well as some understanding of that 
principle of continuity with the past which is possible only 
through the study of the past. Whether the student expects to 
spend six or eight years in college and in professional school, or 
to begin to earn a living at once, he cannot avoid the fact of 
citizenship, and the schools will not fulfill their duty to society 
unless they help their students understand the nature of the 
problems and responsibilities of the society in which they must 
live and which they should help govern. The only sound prin- 
ciple upon which to base a distinction in the allotment of time 
and of courses as between those who are preparing for college 
and those who are not is that certain aspects of work in the social 
studies, such as the course dealing with government and eco- 
nomics, might be postponed until the college years on the as- 
sumption that they could there be studied in a more mature way 
and, therefore, be of greater value in the development of citizen- 
ship. For those students who plan to take advanced work in 
government, economics, or sociology in college a sound second- 
ary-school preparation in history is of particular importance. 

An over-all plan dealing with the teaching of the social studies 
is essential in every school. The first reason for such planning is 


General Education in a Free Society 

to ensure that no subject or materials of basic concern are left 
out. The second is to provide for the orderly development of a 
curriculum adapted to the age and accomplishment of pupils in 
the various grades. The third is to avoid duplication and repe- 

The Elementary Grades. Since this committee has to do 
chiefly with secondary schools and colleges, it would be inappro- 
priate to discuss in detail the content of social studies in the ele- 
mentary grades. But we suggest that the work of the high school 
can be much more substantial if it is built on a foundation which 
has been carefully designed and carried out in the lower grades. 
It should avoid repeating what the student has previously cov- 
ered, unless these materials are such that a second reading is likely 
to be of greater value than something new. It should also be able 
to assume some understanding of certain specific methods of 
learning, a competence in certain skills, as well as a grasp of 
certain bodies of information. 

We do not mean to advocate a long series of systematic or 
chronological surveys through the first seven or eight grades of 
school. Such surveys are of extremely doubtful value, at least 
before the senior high school. It is, for one thing, unwise to 
attempt in lower grades what can be done much better later on. 
We have, moreover, in schools and colleges alike, often made the 
mistake of believing that comprehensive coverage is the inevitable 
method. Surveys have their place, and it is an important one, but 
the systematic or comprehensive survey is often better calculated 
to stifle the student's interest than to arouse his curiosity and to 
lead him to go on for himself. As Montesquieu put it, "We must 
not always exhaust a subject, so as to leave no work at all for the 

In the lower grades children can begin to gain some compre- 
hension of the customs, the methods of making a living, and the 
traditions of peoples remote from their own experience, as well as 
some sense of the historical development of their own commu- 
nity. The relation of environment to civilization is not something 
which can be acquired solely through a study of the immediate 
scene. To say this is not to deprecate the study of the community 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

or state or section, since such study is essential to an appreciation 
of many aspects of society and politics, but to urge that localism 
by itself is a weak basis for citizenship. In these grades the em- 
phasis should be less on survey or on chronology or on time se- 
quence, than on gaining perspective through an introduction to 
a fairly wide variety of the ways in which people in differing 
civilizations have lived. This can often be carried on most fruit- 
fully in connection with the study of geography. But just as the 
merely picturesque is to be avoided, so is the sentimental approach 
to other peoples and times unlikely to yield any realistic under- 
standing of their way of life. 

It is hardly for us to describe the appropriate subject matter 
for the grammar grades. There are many possibilities, and they 
can be combined in many patterns. The study of relatively 
simple peoples, such as the Vikings or the American Indians, of 
value in early grades, is doubtless inappropriate for children old 
enough to find in Huckleberry Finn the basis for understanding 
one of the most fascinating segments of American life. The great 
explorations of early modern times provide rich materials which 
help give an understanding both of the economic problems of 
that age and of the folkways of various peoples. Such study can 
also be a vivid and a valuable introduction to modern geog- 
raphy, one which keeps it from appearing as nothing more than 
an interminable series of lists of capitals, rivers, and principal 

There is a commonly accepted principle that work in social 
studies in the seventh and eighth grades should be carefully re- 
lated to that of both the elementary grades and of high school. 
It may be doubted whether there is any single program which 
would suit the needs of all schools. But experiments which have 
been and are being carried out by many school systems calling 
for the beginning in the seventh grade of a group of two-year 
sequences in the social studies suggest valuable educational possi- 
bilities. This plan relates the first to the second year in these 
groupings and also provides secure foundations for the work to 
come. In those schools where a large proportion of the students 
leave before the eleventh grade it will be desirable to have in the 

General Education in a Free Society 

seventh and eighth grades a course on community life and civics, 
as well as a primarily narrative course on American history. 
Whether such a program is equally desirable in those schools 
where all, or nearly all, students complete the twelfth grade is, in 
view of our recommendations for these years, less clear. We 
repeat how important it is to avoid the repetition and duplication 
now to be found in some curricula. There are many valuable 
subjects which might properly be offered in the seventh and 
eighth grades, leaving the formal study of American history and 
of civics until the last years of high school. 

The High School. We do not propose that every student in 
every secondary school should have work in the social studies 
during each of his four years, although in most schools that might 
be an eminently desirable plan. In an earlier section we suggested 
that English continue through all four years, even though it 
might not be a major or full-time subject in each. There are also 
great advantages to continuity in the social studies, and if the 
schedule has sufficient flexibility it may be found both desirable 
and possible to have the social studies likewise present in each of 
the four years, although in one or two of those years, probably 
in the ninth or tenth grade, they might count as minors or as 

A number of schools are now considering the adoption of two 
two-year sequences in the social studies for the high schools. This 
plan has advantages, although it may not be applicable under all 
conditions. Such a program would include the study of European 
history, or of general history and geography, in the ninth and 
tenth grades, to be followed in the eleventh and twelfth by a final 
two-year sequence dealing with American history and with the 
problems of American life. This scheme can be adapted to the 
needs both of independent schools and of public-school systems, 
whether those systems include junior high schools or retain the 
older four-year high school. 

In any case no one should graduate from secondary school who 
has not had a considerable amount of work in the history of 
modern civilization. We see no way of attaining that perspective, 
that sense of proportion, which is an essential component of good 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

citizenship, without some understanding of the forces which have 
gone into the making of the age in which we live. All citizens 
need to realize that the causes of present happenings ordinarily 
go back before December 7, 1941, or March 4, 1933, and nearly 
all of them have roots which penetrate far deeper than the 
twentieth century. The heritage from the past includes wars and 
racial prejudices as well as modern science and medicine. It in- 
cludes that group of institutions, traditions, ideas, and values 
which we call "the American way of life." Certainly the studies 
of every student should include a thorough course in American 
history given toward the end of high school. But, important as 
we conceive such a course to be, it cannot provide all of the 
historical materials or training needed by American citizens. A 
very large proportion of our institutions and ideas, even of our 
standards of value, have origins which antedate the coining of the 
white man to this continent. Our science, our art, and our litera- 
ture are not purely American creations. We live, moreover, in 
a world of smaller dimensions, and it is no longer possible for us 
to ignore the wars or other conflicts which originate thousands 
of miles from our boundaries and whose causes often involve 
events or tensions extending centuries into the past. 

The focus of work in general history should be Europe, al- 
though a course which failed to include the relation of certain 
events and tendencies in European history to those of other areas, 
particularly Asia, would be too narrow to serve the needs of 
modern citizenship. Such a course should probably not be a 
survey of the entire range of European history, or even of Eu- 
rope since the fall of Rome, but it should not be confined to 
Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Whether the 
course be one which deals with events spread over a very long 
period of time or be confined within somewhat narrower limits, 
its central goal must be kept clearly in mind: to set forth the 
main tendencies in the development of modern civilization. 

Along with the study of general history should go the further 
study of geography. That subject seems to be studied most fruit- 
fully, at least in high school, when it is linked with history. It 
does not follow that students should be expected to learn every 


General Education in a Free Society 

change that has taken place in the map of Europe since Charle- 
magne, or even since the Treaty of Westphalia. Such rote learn- 
ing turns into a travesty both of history and of geography. But 
the importance of geographical factors in the growth of the mod- 
ern world needs emphasis. This would be particularly true in 
connection with the study of the history and problems of the 
twentieth century, which should include economic as well as 
political geography. 

While we think that general history, and especially European 
history, has been unhappily neglected in many schools, both 
public and private, during the past few decades, we do not, to 
repeat, propose that every school should provide precisely the 
same course. Certainly colleges should not attempt to require for 
entrance this or any other single pattern of courses even though 
they may, and we think should, expect of students some substan- 
tial work in European or in general history as well as in American 
history. But there are obvious dangers in prescribing the par- 
ticular methods by which these aims should be attained. There 
may, for example, be in a given school a teacher who is devoted 
to ancient history, and a course in Greek or Roman history can 
be made a vital part of the education of future citizens, even 
though, no matter how well taught, it would not afford that 
familiarity with the background of the modern world which is 
necessary to an understanding of the great society in which we 
live. Such a course might, that is to say, be an extremely valuable 
basis upon which to build later work in modern European and 
in American history, even though it would not be a substitute 
for either. The need for experimentation in teaching the social 
sciences will continue. It would be most unwise to cast them in 
a rigid mold. The enthusiasm of a teacher for his subject is al- 
ways of first importance. But even when all of these factors are 
taken into account, it may be doubted whether any of them can 
justify the exclusion of European and American history from 
the list of courses which best subserves the purposes of general 

It is probably unnecessary to speak at length of the importance, 
or even of the nature, of a course in American history to be taken 

( 14) 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

later in the school years, preferably in the eleventh grade. The 
value of such work at this time is now generally accepted, and 
such a course is almost universally to be found in the secondary 

In some school systems pupils are exposed to American history 
three, four, even five or six times. Testimony, both from edu- 
cators and from students who have experienced, and suffered 
from, such multiple exposure leads us to the view that there is no 
sound reason for this repetition. It leads neither to mastery of 
nor to interest in American history. The subject is many times 
surveyed, usually with diminishing returns and increasing dis- 
taste. It seems wiser to fix the responsibility for American history 
in one year of high school and then to insist that the standards of 
that course be as high as those of any in the school. No course 
will carry a heavier responsibility; none will afford greater oppor- 
tunities for inspiring teaching. We reiterate our opinion that 
this subject can be most valuably studied when it constitutes not 
a separate item in a miscellaneous array, but is introduced as part 
of a sequence of courses in history and the other social studies. 
The aim of such a course is to provide a basis for all later study or 
discussion of American life and society and for participation in 
the work of citizenship. It should, we think, be strongly factual 
in nature. That is not to say that it should consist of lists of dates 
and presidents. Rather, its emphasis should be on the careful knd 
even detailed study of many of the principal events, movements, 
personalities, and institutional developments in American history. 
Easy generalization should not be encouraged at the expense of 
genuine learning. The course should certainly deal at some length 
with the happenings and the trends of the last half-century, but 
it should not be confined to the recent period. 

The residue which holds over from the study of history in 
school will be much greater if the method of uniform coverage 
is avoided. What we have said earlier about the importance of 
selection applies here. Some breadth of coverage is always nec- 
essary in dealing with a broad sweep of history in order that 
connections and relations may be indicated. It does not follow 
that coverage need be uniform, that all aspects of the story be 


General Education in a Free Society 

dealt with, much less dealt with in equal detail or equal lack of 
detail. Those periods, those great writings and documents which 
constitute landmarks in the history of our institutions, certain of 
the momentous experiments and discoveries which have been 
responsible for the transformation from magic to modern science, 
the impact of technology upon economic and social life, some of 
the conflicts which have led to, or immediately preceded, great 
wars certain of these can profitably be dealt with in consider- 
able detail, while only the simplest narrative is employed to tie 
together parts of the whole pattern. The systematic survey of 
chronological completeness succeeds only in finishing the course 
as marked out in a syllabus, while dulling the student's interest 
in history and limiting his understanding to the narrow confines 
of a textbook. A course that attempts to present the contributions 
of certain peoples or inventions or movements or events to the 
formation of our civilization may fail to attain a neat compre- 
hensiveness, but it may also leave a much more enduring imprint 
on the student's mind. 

In addition to some appreciation of the legacy from past gen- 
erations, and some understanding of the variety and complexity 
of inherited problems, the student should gain from the study of 
history a considerable training in what may be called the his- 
torical skills: the ability to analyze maps and documents, to apply 
tests of credibility, and even of scholarly validity, to current 
materials as well as to those of the past. We have suggested that 
it is educationally dangerous to require students to form judg- 
ments without evidence. It follows that they must be given 
experience in gathering and weighing historical evidence. What 
was said about the evils of premature formulation in the teaching 
of English is equally relevant to the teaching of history. It is 
crucial that students acquire a mastery of the relevant factual 
detail. Yet the pursuit of facts for their own sake which results 
in the irrelevant learning of the quiz programs is equally un- 
desirable. We realize that it is far easier to make such statements 
than to apply them in the classroom. Few traits more clearly 
distinguish good teaching from bad than intelligent use of the 
principle that interpretation and generalization, though impor- 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

tant, are valuable only when based on an understanding of the 
facts to which they relate. The tremendous accumulations of 
historical scholarship during the past generation have made the 
problem infinitely harder for the teacher than it was in the nine- 
teenth century. But the problem remains. So far as schools are 
concerned, history is studied not for its own sake but because of 
its relation to the whole of general education, and that education 
cannot be successful if it is confined to the memorizing of half- 
understood details or if facile interpretation be substituted for 
careful study. William James' remark that we can see into a 
generalization only so far as our knowledge of detail goes, ap- 
plies to the social studies as well as to every branch of learning. 

The course dealing with the nature of contemporary society 
constitutes a fitting culmination for all the work in the social 
studies that has preceded it, and it should be an invaluable intro- 
duction to the task of citizenship which lies just ahead. By a 
study of contemporary society we do not mean the study of 
current events, although the best teaching will ordinarily have 
some relation to contemporaneous problems and happenings. 
Rather do we suggest as thorough a study as is feasible in the 
eleventh or twelfth grade of those topics which are dealt with in 
colleges in departments of government, economics, and sociology. 
The subject of such a course would be, in other words, the goals 
and the values, the organization and the processes, the problems 
and conflicts in the political structure, the economic life, and the 
social relationships which go to make up the United States. Ob- 
viously no single course can even attempt a comprehensive survey 
of this broad domain. No one has yet found the perfect selection 
or arrangement of materials and topics, nor is it probable that 
any one plan will please all teachers. The very richness of the 
opportunities will inevitably result in variations of approach and 
emphasis. Such a course can be most profitably given when it 
follows immediately after the study of American history. It will 
be even more profitable if it has also been preceded by work in 
general or European history and in political and economic geog- 

Many of the courses dealing with this subject matter carry 

General Education in a Free Society 

some such title as "Problems of American Life," or some variation 
thereon in which the word "Problems" appears. Emphasis upon 
problems, at least when the word is at all indicative of content 
and approach, has both advantages and disadvantages. It is of the 
first importance to introduce students at the end of high school 
to some of the unsolved, and perhaps insoluble, problems of 
modern political and economic life. It is equally important that 
the emphasis be not upon problems alone, particularly since many 
of the issues which loom large today will seem trivial, if they are 
not quite forgotten, a few years hence. A course of this kind 
should never neglect the basic structure and processes which go 
to make up the political, economic, and social system. It is of 
equal importance that it deal with the values expressed in our 
institutions. A course which emphasizes racial discrimination and 
scarcely mentions the humanitarian movements of the last hun- 
dred years, with their common premise of the dignity and worth 
of all human aspirations and their magnificent, if unfinished, list 
of achievements, is likely to foster either cynicism or romantic 
zeal for a quick remedy, which may turn into disillusion at the 
first contact with the difficulties and complexities inherent in the 
attainment of true reforms. A course which pictures vividly the 
grim story of political corruption and, with scant formality, 
passes over the vast significance of a party system of government 
in which freedom of speech means the right to disagree, where 
the opposition seeks power only through constitutional means 
where words and ballots are substituted for violence, concentra- 
tion camps, and enforced conformity such a course will have 
failed to give the student a true idea of the nature and the values 
of the society in which he will be called upon to exercise the 
functions of a citizen. 

Such treatment of American political, social, and economic 
life should not be concerned only with the contemporaneous or 
with our society as a going concern. The old and much criticized 
maxim, "Politics without history has no roots," expresses a sound 
view if only it be wisely interpreted and applied. It does not 
necessarily mean that politics (which, as once understood, em- 
braced economics and sociology) should be taught only in his- 

( '44) 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

torical terms. But the political, economic, and social problems of 
today do have historical roots, just as they will supply the roots 
of other problems in the future. Connections with the past and 
some knowledge of these problems are essential to an understand- 
ing of the complexity of the political organism. 

The movement toward a "realistic" study of government and 
economics has unquestionably produced a clearer picture of con- 
temporary problems and processes. But the understanding that 
has resulted has often been shallow, partly because of neglect of 
historical forces, partly through lack of attention to the role 
played by relatively abstract principles of politics and economics. 
Nearly fifty years ago Justice Holmes said, "Theory is the most 
important part of the dogma of the law, as the architect is the 
most important man who takes part in the building of a house." 
The generalization is as valid for the social sciences as for law 
and architecture, yet the teaching of these subjects is rarely based 
upon the principle which Holmes expressed. One result is that 
the slogans and catchwords of the moment are accepted as state- 
ments of profound truth; another is a skeptical relativism which 
recognizes no standard of value except success. There is no bet- 
ter safeguard against these unhappy conditions than the study of 
some of the speculative doctrines, as well as some of the state- 
ments of political and social faith, which served the men of the 
past the men from whom we inherit the institutions for whose 
perpetuation and improvement we are responsible. A wise stu- 
dent of American history and government recently remarked 
that we today have no substitute for the old books of maxims 
and precepts of free government which formerly constituted a 
basic part of instruction in the schools. The lack to which he re- 
ferred is a serious one, even though the old collections of maxims 
seem dogmatic and not entirely relevant today. But some of the 
classic statements of political and social theory can profitably be 
used either in courses in European or American history or in 
those dealing with civics or American life. Obviously there will 
be a need for careful selection of such materials in relation to the 
capacities of students, and we do not suggest The Politics or 
The Wealth of Nations in high-school courses. But there exist 

General Education in a Free Society 

statements of the essential principles of democracy which should 
be made available to all students; other statements, as with algebra 
or advanced work in foreign languages, would be suitable only 
for a somewhat limited group. Thus Mill's On Liberty or his 
Representative Government probably could be studied profitably 
by only a minority of high-school students. Some parts of Jef- 
ferson's Notes on Virginia and some numbers of The Federalist 
might be read by a somewhat larger proportion, provided the 
teacher has the training and the capacity to explain their place 
in the growth of American polity and is able to discuss their 
relevance to contemporary affairs. Nearly all students should 
have an opportunity to read some of the major constitutional 
documents and certain of the great speeches of Pitt, Burke, Lin- 
coln, Wilson, and Roosevelt. Passages from many of them have 
become the common possession of literate men. Primarily they 
are eloquent testimonies of faith in a free society. They are also 
illustrations in the history of constitutional democracy and state- 
ments of the principles which have shaped and continue to shape 
the social order in which we live. As such they warrant analysis 
as well as repetition. 

During late years there have been many criticisms of the teach- 
ing of social studies in schools. These criticisms, at least those 
coming from persons outside the schools, seem to be variations 
on a single theme, but for purposes of analysis and discussion 
they may be considered under three heads: first, that teachers of 
the social studies have often substituted moralizing and senti- 
mentality for sound analysis; second, that there has been much 
thinness and superficiality; and third, that the subject matter of 
these courses has not afforded the intellectual discipline of such 
subjects as the languages and mathematics which have been 
crowded out in order to make room for these inadequate re- 

It is easy to agree that a course which consists largely of 
moralizing about proper attitudes is a poor training ground for 
citizenship. Fortunately the flag-waving chauvinism of the sort 
lampooned by Dickens in Jefferson Brick is rarely found among 
teachers, although members of school boards sometimes indulge 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

in it. Students ordinarily view such oratory with fitting detach- 
ment. But the common sense of students can hardly supply the 
solid base of information which should underlie every such 
course. We need more interpretation rather than less in our 
teaching of all of the social studies. But theorizing which has no 
secure roots in factual knowledge is unlikely to bear sound fruit. 

Closely related to the charge that a sentimentally ethical tone 
has sometimes been substituted for more serious study of both 
principles and causal factors is the charge that these courses have 
been superficial. It is apparently true that a good many teachers, 
sometimes because they have lacked an adequate preparation in 
the subject, have emphasized almost wholly the merely contem- 
poraneous, discussing current events with very little relation to 
the complexities which they invariably reflect. Even the best- 
trained teachers, in colleges as well as in schools, have occasionally 
been so ambitious to cover a vast number of topics that they have 
dealt thoroughly with none of them. In historical courses as well 
as in those devoted to civics or to problems of government and 
economics there is always the danger of spreading so thin that no 
opportunity is afforded for careful analysis. From undue spread- 
ing has followed the result, above alluded to, that true learning 
has been sacrificed to quick generalization. Too many children 
have learned too little about too much. The fault has probably 
been as much with school authorities and with those responsible 
for college-entrance requirements as it has been with teachers. 
All alike must recognize more clearly the limitations inherent in 
a succession of broad surveys; all must encourage intensive as 
well as extensive study. 

The view that the social studies do not offer the discipline 
provided by some of the more traditional subjects is largely mis- 
placed. It is true enough that these subjects do not even aim at 
the exactness or the rigor appropriate to mathematics or to the 
study of Latin grammar. But an education wholly devoted to 
the study of those disciplines would be incomplete indeed. It is 
no criticism of the values of mathematics or grammar to suggest 
that the methods of reasoning applicable to them are only par- 
tially applicable when one must deal with the complexity of 

General Education in a Free Society 

social and political life, with the emotions, the variables, the un- 
knowns, to be found in almost every situation which the student 
will later meet. Rigorous exactitude does not allow for con- 
tinuity and change. In education, as in life, we cannot flee from 
distressing complexity and uncertainty to the cozy neatness and 
comprehensiveness of dialectic. Scholasticism gave to modern 
civilization the vital principle of orderliness. But intellectual 
orderliness can, when misplaced, be fatal to either order or justice 
in the changing society that is our heritage and our responsibility. 
What we can hope for in the teaching of the social studies is not 
a mathematical or logical precision, but rather an understanding 
based upon careful, even rigorous, study of some of the stubborn 
facts which have gone into the making of our social order, as 
well as a consideration of the theories and principles implicit in it. 
This is clearly no easy assignment, and to accomplish the aims 
we have discussed, teachers of the social sciences must be persons 
of capacity as well as of superior training. Many are now chosen 
not because of their competence but because they have time left 
over from their activities as athletic coaches, or for other reasons 
as irrelevant. Even among those teachers who devote their en- 
tire time and attention to the subject, there are a good many who 
have been poorly trained. Teachers of history and of the other 
social studies need at least as much college training in history, 
government, and economics as do teachers of languages or mathe- 
matics in their fields. Training in methods of teaching the social 
studies can be useful, but training in methods is not a substitute 
for training in content. Colleges must share in the blame for this 
condition. Many of them have failed to oiler the kind of courses 
needed by teachers. Rather, courses have commonly been 
planned only for the needs of prospective college teachers or 
research scholars. They have been particularly lacking in their 
failure to define the objectives to be sought in the study of these 
subjects. It is easy for any college or university teacher to be- 
come so fascinated with the internal consistency and the scholarly 
problems of his specialty that he loses all sight of its relationship 
to general education. In order that secondary-school teachers of 
history and the social studies may have a sounder training, col- 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

leges and universities must reconsider their methods and their 

No discussion of the problems of teaching the social studies 
would be complete without a recognition of the restraints some- 
times imposed on teachers by outside persons or groups in the 
community. These limitations or compulsions come ordinarily 
from those who believe, or profess to believe, that they are ex- 
pressing the true principles of Americanism. They too often 
forget that the basic doctrine of that faith is freedom of thought 
and speech, as they fail to recall the disastrous effects in many 
countries of abandoning that freedom. It may readily be agreed 
that teachers must be aware of their grave responsibility in dis- 
cussing debated and debatable political and social ideas and move- 
ments. Their role is analysis, discussion, teaching not stump 
oratory. But recognition of the nature of that role must not be 
allowed to become an excuse for strangling the freedom to in- 
vestigate and to discuss controversial issues. That freedom is 
essential to the continuation of the American way of life. Teach- 
ers are citizens and their students will soon be expected to take 
up the obligations of citizenship. Unless teachers are free to enjoy 
the privileges of citizenship outside the classroom, and to carry 
on in the classroom the spirit and practice of inquiry and discus- 
sion, the rights of teachers and of students will have been sacri- 
ficed to a principle of enforced conformity which has been far 
more productive of the spirit of revolt than of intelligent par- 
ticipation in the democratic process. Change is inevitable in 
politics, as in science and in the art of war. Our constitutional 
system is based on that assumption, and orderly change, as the 
founders knew, can proceed only out of free discussion. To those 
who are entirely content with the existing condition of affairs, 
any consideration of proposals for amendment may appear to be 
both unpatriotic and unconstitutional. To them we would recall 
the statement of Jefferson, made at the age of seventy-three, after 
he had spent nearly a decade in reflecting on his forty years of 
public life: 

Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of 
the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlight- 

General Education in a Free Society 

cned, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and man- 
ners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institu- 
tions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might 
as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a 
boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their 
ancestors. (Writings, Paul L. Ford, ed., X, pp. 42-43.) 


Science and Mathematics 

many things to many different persons. To some it is typified 
primarily by the miracles of technology which have changed the 
face of civilization and which exert a continuing impact on all 
aspects of modern society. To others science signifies predomi- 
nantly an intellectual enterprise marked principally by precision, 
so that it tends to fuse with mathematics; or by the ordering of 
evidence, so that it tends to fuse in this regard with certain social 
sciences. To still others it represents primarily a body of knowl- 
edge and hypothesis concerning the material world. 

Science partakes of all these things. But if it is to be considered 
fruitfully, and its contribution to general education evaluated, it 
must be defined more adequately. From our point of view science 
is primarily a distinct type of intellectual enterprise, involving 
highly restricted aspects of reality and prepared as such to make 
particular types of contribution to general education. 

Science is not to be divorced from technology. Science and 
technology develop in parallel, each fructifying the other. Yet 
science is not technology. Its prime end is knowing rather than 
doing\ or better still, it is doing in order that one may know, 
rather than doing with primarily other ends in view greater 
convenience, technical efficiency, military power, or economic 
advantage, for example. 

As was said in Chapter II, science is certainly distinguished by 
a persistent effort toward precision. It measures whatever can be 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

measured. Yet it is only as logical as its interpretation of reality 
permits. When logic and apparent fact fall out with one another, 
the scientist takes the fact and leaves the logic for future repair. 
Science is concerned with understanding and operating with 
nature. Its object is, as Bacon expressed it, u to command nature 
in action." It is not primarily concerned with the construction of 
a logical system. Science, like the proverbial man from Missouri, 
insists upon being shown. It is in this regard an expert and highly 
organized common sense. 

When we say that science is concerned with things and events 
which permit exact definition and measurement, we imply a cer- 
tain stability in these things and in their behavior. To a degree 
science limits its interest to the stable or repetitive. The material 
world abounds in such phenomena; yet it cannot be relied upon 
to produce them for inspection at times and under conditions 
which best satisfy scientific examination. The scientist therefore 
ensures himself, when he can, the proper circumstances for pur- 
suing his inquiry by ordering the conditions of the natural event 
himself. This is the point of scientific experiment. By this means 
matters may be so arranged as to yield an unequivocal answer to 
a highly specific question concerning the real world. Such regu- 
lation of the system under regard is beyond the powers of students 
in other areas of reality. 

It is this constant appeal to things as they are which makes the 
direct experience of the field and laboratory essential in scientific 
education. Needless to say, this is so only to the degree that work 
in the field or laboratory is designed not merely to keep students 
busy or to develop technical proficiency, but to provide directly 
the materials of scientific argument and the tests of scientific 
hypothesis. For this purpose no elaborateness is needed. The 
simple observation that weights tied to the end of a certain length 
of string oscillate with the same period no matter what the weight 
or what the amplitude of swing demonstrates better than any 
quantity of verbal explanation the genuine meaning of order in 
nature. The direct observation that part for part the structure 
of man parallels that of a frog conveys as can no amount of state- 
ment a sense of the genetic relationships of living organisms. 

General Education in a Free Society 

Science is concerned with the marshaling and critical appraisal 
of evidence; so also are many other fields of learning. But science 
is concerned with evidence of a peculiar sort concerning a par- 
ticular class of phenomena, specifically with those material things 
and processes which permit exact description and measurement. 
The world contains many things which do not lend themselves 
to this type of examination. These things, whatever their intrinsic 
value to us as human beings, fall outside the province of the nat- 
ural sciences. Science is prepared to deal only with those aspects 
of reality which lend themselves to its methods of appraisal. 
Great confusion in the public mind has resulted from the failure 
to appreciate this fundamental and self-imposed limitation. This 
consideration is fundamental also in defining what we mean by 
the natural sciences. Certain aspects of human social organization, 
for example, represent potential natural sciences, since man and 
society are part of matter and nature. This potentiality, however, 
cannot now be realized, precisely because man's social behavior 
and social processes cannot yet be analyzed and defined with 
sufficient precision. 

The element of precision in the natural sciences is fulfilled by 
measurement when possible. It then yields a description which 
is numerical and which therefore can be manipulated mathe- 
matically. The end of this process is the enunciation of a scien- 
tific law or hypothesis. In the best case a scientific law takes the 
form of a mathematical equation. Not all branches of science 
attain at all points this ultimate state, but all aspire to it, and all 
measure their success by the degree to which they approximate 
this condition. 

Quantitative measurements and their mathematical manipula- 
tion are therefore woven inextricably into the structure of sci- 
ence. Within large areas of physics, chemistry, and biology one 
can no more excise mathematics than logic without destroying 
the essential structure. Modern physics originated in the careful 
measurements and mathematical arguments of Galileo, modern 
astronomy in Kepler's mathematical treatment of the extensive 
measurements of Tycho Brahe, modern chemistry in the quanti- 
tative analyses of Lavoisier, modern physiology in the measure- 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

merits and calculations of blood flow and heart volume by Wil- 
liam Harvey. Newton was forced to invent the calculus to deal 
with his dynamical observations. Instruction in science should 
certainly inculcate in the general student an appreciation of these 
relations and some exercise in their application. 

Mathematics and work in the laboratory represent genuine 
intellectual barriers for some students. It might be supposed for 
this reason that the values of science instruction which are our 
primary concern in general education might be conveyed more 
successfully without these elements. What this notion fails to 
appreciate, however, is that direct observation and precision are 
among the most important values and basic ideas that science 
should contribute to general education. 

What might be conveyed without them is not only not science, 
but is in a very real sense antiscientific. It comes perilously close 
in spirit to the scholasticism with which modern science broke at 
its inception. It possesses the typically scholastic reliance upon 
verbal authority in this case the authority of the writer of 
scientific texts it has the same predominantly deductive logical 
structure, and the same preoccupation with words rather than 
with the objects and processes which they only imperfectly sym- 
bolize. The thought that an understanding of science might be 
conveyed as well or better without direct observation, experi- 
ment, and mathematical reasoning involves a fundamental mis- 
apprehension of the nature of science. 

We have stressed certain very general points of view and 
modes of approach which animate all the sciences. It is clear that 
important lines of thought and content interconnect the sciences 
with one another. Yet it must be added that despite their many 
interconnections and similarities, the individual sciences differ 
widely. These differences emanate from the nature of physical 
reality; they are not simply foisted upon us by the predilections 
of scientists. 

In going from physics to chemistry, from chemistry to biology, 
one crosses genuine hierarchical boundaries. The basis of consid- 
eration of the natural world changes; different frames of reference 
are invoked. One either considers different things, or one con- 

General Education in a Free Society 

siders the same things from wholly different standpoints. When 
we deal with a lever in physics we are not concerned with 
whether it is made of wood or steel. When we deal with wood 
or steel in chemistry, we are not concerned with the possibility 
that these substances are to be used to make levers. When levers 
enter biology, it is in the form of anatomical adaptations of the 
principle of the lever for animal locomotion; and here we are 
concerned primarily neither with the principle of the lever as 
such nor with the substance of the lever as such, but with the role 
of anatomical levers in promoting the maintenance and survival 
of the organism. 

So it is with almost any aspect of the material world which we 
care to examine. It is presented to us physically, chemically, or 
biologically, not merely in different aspects, but on wholly dif- 
ferent levels of approach and reference. Associated with these 
basic intellectual differences are wide differences in technical 
approach. One has only to enter a physical, a chemical, or a bio- 
logical laboratory to see that each of them works with different 
tools; one is confronted with different sights, sounds, and smells. 
This fact again is not based upon the inclination or education of 
the scientist, but upon the nature of the material being examined 
and the nature of the inquiry being pursued. What we deal with, 
therefore, in the division of the natural sciences is inherent in the 
modes in which the natural world appears to our senses. It is no 
mere traditional educational tactic. Since this is so, it cannot be 
exorcised by any mere educational reconstruction. 

It should be an important aim of general instruction in science 
to make this truth clear to students, to give them a clear appre- 
ciation of the hierarchy of nature and its reflection in the hier- 
archy of the sciences. There is abundant opportunity provided 
here to convey a most important generalization: that all modes 
of inquiry must be adapted to the material under consideration 
and to available methods of approach. If this educational task is 
properly accomplished we shall have less in future of attempts 
to use the "scientific method" upon material wholly unsuited to 
whatever methods may be employed under that guise; and more 
realization that statements in the literary or social sphere neces- 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

sarily are different in nature, and in precision, from statements in 

We have defined above what we mean by science, what it is 
and what it is not, and have attempted to give some idea of its 
unique characteristics and the unique contributions which it can 
make to general education. Our task is now to define more 
closely the conditions under which these potentialities can be 
realized. It is not enough that courses in science purvey precise 
information, use mathematical methods, maintain laboratories, 
and avoid doing violence to the hierarchical structure of nature 
and of the sciences. Many such courses as now constituted 
have all these characteristics and still fail to make the full con- 
tribution to general education which is potentially theirs. 

The reasons for this failure are to be sought in many directions. 
Particularly at the middle levels, the teacher is not always clear 
whether he is engaged in general or in special education, what 
proportion of his effort is to be spent on coverage and on being 
factually up-to-date, to what degree he is training for manipu- 
lative skill, and so on. From the point of view of general educa- 
tion, we are interested in these things not primarily for their own 
sake, but as they fit into an integrated intellectual structure. Sci- 
ence instruction in general education should be characterized 
mainly by broad integrative elements the comparison of sci- 
entific with other modes of thought, the comparison and contrast 
of the individual sciences with one another, the relations of sci- 
ence with its own past and with general human history, and of 
science with problems of human society. These are areas in which 
science can make a lasting contribution to the general education 
of all students. Unfortunately, these areas are slighted most often 
in modern teaching. 

Many science teachers may at once object that they are already 
badly pressed for time. There is so much ground to cover, and 
so much more is added day by day, that the teacher is engaged in 
a continuous struggle to encompass the subject matter. How is 
he, then, to deal with extra things the critical examination, 
history, literature, and general cultural context of his subject? It 
is of course true that as extra things these aspects of science in- 


General Education in a Free Society 

struction should be impossible. But they are not extra things 
they are the very stuff of science in general education. Once it is 
clear that one is engaged in general rather than special education, 
these are things which must be emphasized, and to an increasing 
degree as the student matures. Obviously in the very young, 
science instruction primarily takes the form of conveying some 
familiarity with the world of immediate experience, and this nec- 
essarily proceeds mainly by direct contact and emphasis on fact 
and classifications. The integrative element here is the student's 
own mode of life and his personal relation to the immediate 

But as one leaves direct experience, and the immediate and 
familiar, an increasing need arises for an intellectual structure, an 
articulated skeleton to be clothed with the flesh of scientific fact 
and demonstration. The facts of science and the experiences of 
the laboratory no longer can stand by themselves, since they no 
longer represent simple, spontaneous, and practical elements di- 
rectly related to the daily life of the student. As they become 
further removed from his experience, more subtle, more abstract, 
the facts of science must be learned in another context, cultural, 
historical, and philosophical. Only such broader perspectives can 
give point and lasting value to scientific information and experi- 
ence for the general student. 

When are we, in fact, engaged in general rather than special 
education in science? We believe the answer to this question is 
reasonably clear. Below the college level, virtually all science 
teaching should be devoted to general education. Certain types 
of technological instruction in the secondary schools, which have 
a primarily vocational intent, we do not include in our considera- 
tion of the sciences. It may be hoped that whenever possible 
even such vocational instruction might retain elements of a gen- 
eral scientific attitude. What we have to say about relations 
between general and special education in science at college must 
be reserved for the next chapter. 

Science in the Schools. Education in science should begin early 
in the primary grades, surely not later than the seventh grade. It 
can approach familiarly immediate aspects of the environment. 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

They may be dealt with in large comprehensive units, the study 
of which transcends the conventional boundaries between the 
various branches of science. At this stage, in fact, no important 
end is served by concentrating on the method or structure of the 
sciences. On the contrary, the student and his environment are 
the central themes; and their interrelations, if pursued rationally, 
necessarily disregard all such limitations. 

So, for example, if one approaches the study of the atmosphere, 
one should ascertain by simple means that air has substance and 
weight, that it exerts pressure and has other such properties which 
conventionally belong to the realm of physics. This might well 
be followed by a consideration of the composition of the air: so, 
for example, combustion removes a fraction of the air, oxygen, 
occupying about one fifth of its total volume, producing in this 
process carbon dioxide. Here one is in the conventional sphere 
of chemistry. One might well proceed immediately to demon- 
strate that a living animal also consumes oxygen and produces 
carbon dioxide while a green plant reverses this process, and here 
we have entered biology. 

Even at this most elementary stage the student should become 
familiar with the direct appeal to nature which is the heart of 
science. To a large degree this can be done by demonstration, 
but students should be led to explore matters for themselves and 
to find answers to simple problems by direct experimentation. 
There is also of course a great area of science which involves 
careful observation rather than experiment. Every effort should 
be made to induce a genuine and rich familiarity with the world 
of nature outside the classroom. This is the period of life in which 
collecting, classifying, and simple description are particularly 
attractive; and all these things, which form so large and indis- 
pensable a background for the more sophisticated experiences of 
later life, should now be fostered and developed. 

Important as it is that the student learn to experiment as a 
means of solving natural problems, it is not at all requisite that he 
concern himself with an intellectual analysis of this process. In 
reality the scientific method, of which so much is spoken for 
both good and ill, is whatever means may be appropriate for 


General Education in a Free Society 

solving problems in the natural environment. The working 
scientist brings to bear upon these problems everything at his 
command previous knowledge, intuition, trial and error, im- 
agination, formal logic, and mathematics and these may ap- 
pear in almost any order in the course of working through a 

The nub of the matter is that the problem be solved. One may 
go back afterward to analyze what has occurred, and then may 
generalize it and put it in the form of a logical sequence. But that 
is not how the thing actually happens; and in any case the analysis 
of this very complicated procedure is a highly sophisticated ven- 
ture not necessary to the successful operation of the method, and 
certainly no concern of a child engaged in his first approach to 
nature. Nothing could be more stultifying, and, perhaps more 
important, nothing is further from the procedure of the scientist 
than a rigorous tabular progression through the supposed "steps" 
of the scientific method, with perhaps the further requirement 
that the student not only memorize but follow this sequence in 
his attempt to understand natural phenomena. 

In high school science instruction should certainly continue. 
At this stage those who are properly qualified to do so should 
have the opportunity to pursue sciences and to begin to develop 
the skills appropriate to them. But for those especially for whom 
secondary education is terminal, and possibly for all students, a 
course in a particular science does not really fulfill the aims of 
general education. There is place for a rigorous and highly in- 
tegrated introduction to science as a whole. Such a course should 
differ greatly from the type of general science taught in grammar 
school. It can expand its content beyond the student's immediate 
environment and experience. It should begin to segregate for him 
the differences in point of view and approach which are the basis 
of the division of the sciences into separate disciplines. It should 
include something of the history of scientific discoveries and some 
discussion of major scientific concepts and hypotheses. Such a 
course, properly designed, might not only be the ideal offering 
for the terminal student but the best possible introduction for 
those who will go on to the individual sciences. 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

As a second course in science, or as a first course for those 
whose training in general science is already adequate, a course in 
general biology is probably most advisable. In the ninth or tenth 
grade biology takes precedence over courses in other sciences, 
both because the student's stage of intellectual maturity is better 
suited to the subject matter of biology, which can be dealt with 
largely in a descriptive way, and because the content of this 
course is more intimately related to his daily experience and 
educational needs. Such a course should, for example, provide 
informative and emotionally neutral approaches to such subjects 
as personal and community hygiene, nutrition, and sexual re- 

General biology, coming usually at the tenth grade, is probably 
the last formal science instruction that many students not going 
on to college will obtain. Whatever they are to learn of the scien- 
tific spirit and methods of accumulating knowledge must be epito- 
mized in this course. This aim might be attained in part through 
study of the work of great biologists Pasteur, Mendel, Darwin, 
and Harvey, for example and in part through individual proj- 
ects involving laboratory or field work which run parallel with 
the work of the classroom. 

Those students preparing to enter college but who have no 
direct interest in the sciences might also stop at this point; or for 
those who have had biology in the ninth grade a further course 
in physics or chemistry might be advised. Better still for such 
students would be a systematic presentation of basic concepts and 
principles of the physical sciences, such as is now being experi- 
mented with in a number of schools. This type of course draws 
illustrative materials, as they are appropriate to its principal 
themes, from the fields of physics, chemistry, geology, and astron- 
omy. Its aim should be to supply a broad view of the nature and 
organization of the physical world and a more mature approach to 
scientific concepts than is possible in the general science teaching 
of grades seven through nine. Needless to say, its primary aims 
should be those of general education, not the development of 
the skills and technical knowledge of the potential physicist and 


General Education in a Free Society 

Those who plan advanced work in science and mathematics in 
college should go beyond secondary-school biology to a year of 
chemistry or physics or both. An integrated course in physical 
sciences might be of particular value to such students. A course 
like this can profitably extend into a second year. When properly 
designed such a two-year sequence should make a greater contri- 
bution to the student's general education and his preparation for 
future study than separate one-year courses in physics and chem- 

In the final section of this chapter we shall say something about 
the importance of shop training in general education. For those 
who intend to go into scientific or technological work, it has 
special relevance. The manipulation of objects, the use of tools, 
and the construction of simple apparatus all are required for entry 
into the world of experimentation. Even the pure mathematician 
is greatly aided by shop experience; the forms, contours, and 
interrelations of three-dimensional objects provide a stimulus and 
satisfaction not to be achieved altogether within the limits of 
plane diagrams. The lack of shop training is at present a most 
serious deterrent to entry into all types of technological work 
and to college and postgraduate training in science, medicine, and 
engineering. What students should learn in secondary school 
specifically is the use of simple hand tools and the execution of 
simple basic operations such as soldering and elementary glass 
blowing and joining. If the student can be taught to operate a 
drill press, a wood lathe and a machine lathe, so much the better. 
Obviously, the equipment for work with power-driven tools is 
not ordinarily available except in larger schools. 

Mathematics in General Education. We have already empha- 
sized the indispensable part which mathematics plays in the study 
of the natural sciences. This by no means exhausts its position as 
a tool and as an effective mode of thought in general education. 
In subjects other than the sciences notably in economics, psy- 
chology, sociology, and anthropology frequent and increasing 
use is made of the graphic presentation of data, of statistics, and 
of simple algebraic formulas. Almost all students meet one or 
more of these fields either in the course of their formal education 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

or later, and hence should be prepared early with the simple 
mathematical techniques required for their pursuit. 

This argument has particular and immediate force for the pro- 
spective college student. But the need of elementary mathematics 
in fact involves a much larger and constantly growing section of 
the general population. The complexities of organization and 
technology in modern industry, in government, and in the na- 
tional defense make increasing demands upon the mathematical 
equipment and skills of the ordinary participant and worker. 
The wartime situation in which many young men otherwise 
qualified for officer training were rejected because of deficiency 
in mathematics can be duplicated in many varieties of employ- 
ment. The fact is that there is a steadily increasing number of 
jobs in industry, as well as in both civil and military governmental 
agencies, for which a sound training in algebra and geometry is 
a prerequisite. For a fairly considerable number of positions solid 
geometry and trigonometry are essential. 

Beyond this, however, mathematics has an important intrinsic 
role in general education. It helps build some of the skills and 
comprehensions that make the effective individual. Within the 
past fifty years mathematics and logic have been fused into a 
single structure. In so far as logical thinking is rigorous, abstract, 
and relational, its connection with mathematics is obvious. The 
ability to analyze a concrete situation into its elements, to Syn- 
thesize components into a related whole, to isolate and select 
relevant factors, defining them rigorously, meanwhile discarding 
the irrelevant; and the ability to combine these factors, often in 
novel ways, so as to reach a solution, all are important features of 
mathematical procedure. 

Mathematics may be defined as the science of abstract form. It 
is concerned with the universal pattern within the concrete situa- 
tion. The discernment of structure is essential no less to the 
appreciation of a painting or a symphony than to understanding 
the behavior of a physical system; no less in economics than in 
astronomy. Mathematics studies order abstracted from the par- 
ticular objects and phenomena which exhibit it, and in a general- 
ized form. When Bertrand Russell defined mathematics as the 


General Education in a Free Society 

subject in which we do not know what we are talking about, and 
do not know whether what we are talking about is true, he stated 
wittily what we have been saying solemnly. 

Mathematics is by no means the only road to an appreciation 
of abstraction and logical structure. But tactically these ends may 
be approached most readily through mathematics, particularly 
with the young. No better example of an abstract logical system 
for use with adolescents than demonstrative geometry has yet 
been discovered. One has only to experience its impact upon a 
bright youngster the satisfaction with which he borrows the 
logical sequence of propositions, the reiterated "therefore" and 
the "Q.E.D." to realize the force of such instruction in general 

General education throughout its history has included mathe- 
matics as one of its major components. It has lost none of its 
relevance in modern general education, though to it now must be 
added the enormous utility of mathematics in modern life. 

Mathematics in the Schools. By the end of the seventh or the 
middle of the eighth grade every pupil should have acquired a 
reasonable facility in the language of arithmetic, the beginning of 
an appreciation of the number system, some competence in the 
solution of arithmetical problems, and some appreciation of the 
power of mathematics in formulating and solving problems in 
the real world. 

By this time also every pupil should have learned the commoner 
facts of geometry, either by induction from measurements, draw- 
ings, and gross observation, or by intuitive reasoning. The next 
stage in mathematical instruction, and the last for those students 
who are least apt in the subject, should convey an appreciation of 
the use of formulas, graphs, and simple equations, and should 
develop some skill in solving right triangles trigonometrically. 
Even in the case of pupils who are not quick in mathematics, these 
last steps should require not more than half a year. Probably little 
more than half the pupils enrolled in the ninth grade can derive 
genuine profit from substantial instruction in algebra or can be 
expected to master demonstrative geometry. Those who have 
the requisite abilities should certainly receive such instruction. 

( 162 ) 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

The teaching of these subjects is complicated by the fact that 
many students of low mathematical aptitude feel compelled to 
study algebra and demonstrative geometry simply to maintain 
their intellectual status, or because these subjects are integral 
parts of college-preparatory instruction. In most schools the 
attempt to deal with such students in the same class with their 
more able fellows has resulted in substantial concessions in the 
way these subjects are taught. It is probably true that any con- 
siderable softening of instruction in algebra and demonstrative 
geometry, to bring them within the compass of the mathemati- 
cally inept, serves no useful purpose. It makes a contribution of 
very doubtful value to the slow students at the very real expense 
of the more acute. 

It is unfortunately true that those aspects of algebra and geom- 
etry that are of greatest interest in general education are also more 
difficult to teach, and are much harder for the student to grasp, 
than are the technical skills of mathematical manipulation. The 
pressure to make mathematics easier for students, therefore, is 
inclined to take the form of making it less meaningful and more 
technical, of developing it as a ritual of memorized formulas and 
procedures. This consideration runs just counter to the popular 
notion that the principles and basic ideas of mathematics are 
relatively easily conveyed, and that it is the drill and solution of 
specific problems that present the most formidable obstacles. 

We must recognize, then, that for the mathematically less 
gifted pupils in the ninth grade there is little straightforward 
mathematics available beyond elementary instruction in arith- 
metic and informal geometry, which, as was said, should include 
guidance in the use of formulas, equations, graphs, and right- 
triangle trigonometry. If it be thought that these students might 
more profitably be taught such a subject as "commercial algebra," 
only a cursory glance at this subject shows it to be harder than 
ordinary algebra. On the other hand, it is of course desirable to 
stimulate the interest of mathematically inept students in the 
number relations of arithmetic and in the elementary principles 
of geometry by presenting mathematics in various disguises ~ 
such as shop mathematics, business arithmetic, mathematics of the 


General Education in a Free Society 

farm, and so on. In such novel forms these students can be 
brought to reexamine and improve their grasp of simple arith- 
metic and its application to practical problems. 

If further mathematics is to be given these pupils, informal 
geometry and mechanical drawing offer the greatest chance of 
success because of their concreteness. In such an approach, how- 
ever, one has been forced to concede one of the primary values of 
mathematics instruction in general education. Mathematics com- 
prises both abstraction and the application of the results obtained 
by abstraction to specific real problems. Of these aspects, the 
basic one is abstraction. Only because it is abstract is mathematics 
applicable generally to problems which arise in widely different 
areas. When a student has reached his limit of tolerance in han- 
dling abstractions, his general education in mathematics must also 
come to an end. 

We may now consider the students of relatively good mathe- 
matical endowment. These pupils can acquire in the ninth and 
higher grades a genuine appreciation of algebra as an extension 
and generalization of arithmetic. Through algebra they gain a 
better understanding of the number system of arithmetic and of 
arithmetical procedures. Through algebra, also, they can appre- 
ciate how the abstraction and generalization of specific proce- 
dures yield solutions that are applicable to a wide range of real 
problems; and that by solving their problems symbolically by 
means of algebra they enormously simplify and shorten their 
numerical computations. 

These students have the capacity also to understand demon- 
strative geometry, which they should be taught in the tenth and 
higher grades. Instruction in this subject should give them prac- 
tice in devising and appraising logical arguments and in pursuing 
a limited argument to its conclusion. It should also bring them to 
appreciate the structure of an abstract logical system. 

Though it is of course possible to learn to reason deductively 
without the aid of instruction in demonstrative geometry, no 
better example of an abstract logical system within the reach of 
secondary-school pupils has yet been discovered. Properly taught, 
it shows the need of undefined terms, defined terms, and assump- 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

tions in every sustained logical argument. It proclaims its the- 
orems as valid conclusions from basic assumptions but makes no 
assertion that the assumptions themselves have absolute validity. 
It suggests that starting with other assumptions one might arrive 
at quite different theorems, equally valid logically, yet possibly 
contradicting the former set. Demonstrative geometry, so taught, 
becomes the study of geometric systems and goes on from these 
to yield conclusions concerning logical systems in general. The 
projection of the structure of geometry into areas of more im- 
mediate and often of more practical interest to the student should 
be taught explicitly. It is only in this way that there can be ac- 
complished the "transfer" of mathematical values to other spheres 
of human interest, which is a primary concern of general edu- 

In describing the instruction in algebra and demonstrative ge- 
ometry in grades nine, ten, and eleven, we have had in mind the 
needs of all those students who have mathematical aptitudes 
above the median. As has already been emphasized in a preced- 
ing discussion, the circumstances of life, work, and national well- 
being in our highly technological culture make it essential that 
virtually all students who have the capacity for mastering these 
subjects be taught them. The student preparing to go to college 
certainly needs this instruction. 

For students who by the tenth or eleventh grade have decided 
that their interest in science and mathematics will not extend 
beyond a general education in these areas, no further work in 
mathematics can probably be prescribed. Nevertheless, to ensure 
even such students full freedom of choice in later pursuing some 
scientific or technological training, and to assure them a more 
complete and rigorous training in an area of constantly widening 
importance in all fields of learning, further mathematics might 
be very strongly advised. 

Rather than have such students pursue further mathematics in 
the customary large units solid geometry, trigonometry, 
or advanced algebra it might be more valuable to give them 
in the senior year, just preparatory to entering college, an intro- 
ductory survey of elementary trigonometry, statistics, precision 

General Education in a Free Society 

of measurement, and the use of graphs. Such a course would give 
them a very general, if elementary, equipment for understanding 
better a number of situations with which they can scarcely fail 
to make contact later. It would also serve as a freshener, just be- 
fore entering college, of their previous training in algebra and 
geometry, often all but lost by this time. 

In any case the common practice of leaving a gap of two years 
between the last instruction in mathematics in secondary school 
and entrance into college represents an enormous waste in the 
educational process. During this interval much of the mathe- 
matics taught in the ninth and tenth grades is forgotten, and much 
of the mathematics instruction of the freshman year at college is 
devoted to its recall. On purely educational grounds it would be 
very much better if even the minimum program of mathematics 
instruction which we have suggested for the precollege student 
were taught at a slower pace, so as to be distributed over the 
entire secondary-school course. 

For students who by their third year in secondary school have 
decided upon a college training involving science and mathe- 
matics, pure or applied, further training in mathematics is needed. 
Beyond demonstrative geometry, such students ordinarily should 
have instruction in advanced algebra, solid geometry, and trigo- 
nometry. Particularly for these students a senior mathematics 
course which abandons the traditional method of teaching these 
subjects separately might be desirable. This would resemble to 
a degree the senior mathematics which we have just discussed 
with reference to nonscience students. For students with a direct 
interest and general aptitude in science and mathematics, such a 
course might include besides elementary trigonometry and 
some solid geometry analytic geometry and an elementary ap- 
proach to the principles of the calculus. It should in any case 
bring such students to the threshold of the calculus, so that the 
first mathematics course in college can attack this subject directly. 

Teachers and administrators who are charged with the task of 
guiding secondary-school pupils in the choice of their studies 
may be interested in the judgment of college teachers of science. 
The latter, of course, wish to have every pupil in secondary 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

school acquire those scientific ideas that should be the common 
property of everyone. But from the point of view of college 
instruction in science, if they must choose between students who 
have studied considerable science and only a little mathematics, 
and students who have had little science but who are well 
grounded in mathematics, they almost universally prefer the 
latter. Statistics of the College Entrance Examination Board 
show success in college physics to be correlated more closely with 
a high score in the Board's examination in advanced mathematics 
than with a high score in its examination in physics. 

To summarize, those aspects of mathematics that should be 
prescribed for all students can be mastered by the end of the 
eighth grade or by the middle of the ninth. Above this point a 
division must be recognized between students who can derive 
little profit from further instruction in pure mathematics and 
those with relatively good mathematical aptitude. We have taken 
the position that of the latter group in the senior high school, 
every student should be strongly advised to study both algebra 
and demonstrative geometry and should not reject either subject 
lightly. The prospective candidate for admission to college cer- 
tainly needs instruction in both these subjects. Those college- 
preparatory students who have no special interest in science, 
medicine, or technological fields should not be required to pursue 
the study of mathematics further. All competent students -with 
special interests in these fields should take all the secondary 
mathematics that is available. 

Education and the Human Being 

THE fact that an educational institution grants a diploma on the 
basis of the completion of courses and the passing of examinations 
does not imply that its aim is wholly to impart learning. As we 
suggested in the second chapter, learning is also for the sake of 
cultivating basic mental abilities; in short, to foster the powers of 

General Education in a Free Society 

reason in man. The ability to think in accordance with the facts 
and with the laws of inference, to choose wisely, to feel with 
discrimination is what distinguishes man from the animals and 
endows him with intrinsic worth. Yet reason, while an end, is a 
means as well a means to the mastery of life. The union of 
knowledge and reason in the integrated personality this is the 
final test of education. We are not now denying the central posi- 
tion of reason or of knowledge as ministering to reason; we are 
only urging that reason is or must strive to become a master of a 
highly complex inner kingdom consisting of many and diverse 
members, all of which go into the making of a complete man. To 
put the matter bluntly, the educational process has somewhat 
failed of its purpose if it has produced the merely bookish youth 
who lacks spirit and is all light without warmth. But to leave the 
matter in these terms is to make for dangerous confusion; we must 
safeguard our statement from the misunderstandings to which it is 
exposed. What are some of the important qualities, over and 
above intellectual ability, which are necessary for an integrated 
and sound human being? 

The school will be concerned with the health of its pupils, both 
physical and mental. The human body must be healthy, fit for 
work, able to carry out the purposes of the mind. Mental health 
has two forms. The first is social adjustment, an understanding 
of other people and a responsiveness to their needs with its coun- 
terpart of good manners. The second is personal adjustment, the 
individual's understanding of himself, his poise and adequacy in 
coping with real situations. Obviously the two are inseparable. 

While traditionally man has been viewed as primarily a rational 
animal, recent thinking has called attention to his unconscious 
desires and sentiments which becloud and sometimes sway his 
reason. To be sure, classical philosophers recognized the exist- 
ence of the passions, but they tended to regard the latter as alien 
intrusions and an unwanted complication. Yet passions, although 
dangerous because primitive and even savage, are a source of 
strength if properly guided; they supply the driving forces for 
achievement. Lord Bryce once said that if government were in 
the hands of the young many mistakes would be made, but if 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

government were run by old men nothing would be done. Ac- 
cording to the ancient myth, reason is the charioteer that directs 
but is not the horse that pulls the chariot. In the complete man 
we look for initiative, zest and interest, strength of resolution, 
driving power. In a free society much of improvement, in or 
outside government, comes from the initiative and the dogged 
perseverance of private citizens; and the clash of ambitions in the 
struggle for the rewards of life, when regulated by the rules of 
fair play and a concern for the common good, is a source of social 

The danger in the preceding account is that the various com- 
ponents of the human person might be wrongly viewed as isolated 
elements or faculties, each leading an autonomous existence. For 
instance, reason is not a faculty operating separately from interest 
and zest. Without a zeal for knowledge, without the impulse of 
curiosity, the thinker will remain lazy and unproductive. And 
yet, while ordinarily the perfection of one human power depends 
on the parallel development of the other powers, there are im- 
portant and unpredictable exceptions. It is not true, for example, 
that a healthy body is always necessary for the existence of a 
vigorous mind. There are cases of great men in the arts and the 
sciences who, all their lives, fought against sickness; there have 
been persons eminent in a special field who were not rounded 
individuals. Human personality is enough of a mystery to pre- 
clude our making sweeping and rigid prescriptions. 

Furthermore, the concept of the whole man is not adequate as 
an aim of education. The innate drives, the sentiments and force 
of will, are neutral, capable of developing in either direction, and 
may become antisocial unless they are "moralized," unless they 
are made to serve as tools in the hand of duty. The complete man 
must be a good man. Moral character arises from the molding of 
the native powers to ideal aims. The final secular good is the 
dedication of the self to an ideal higher than the self the devo- 
tion to truth and to one's neighbor. 

So far we have been dealing with general objectives. But teach- 
ers naturally ask what should be done in the school to implement 
these aims. We wish to make it clear that to adopt the above list 


General Education in a Free Society 

of the human powers is not at all to be committed to a comparable 
list of courses, as a part of formal instruction. There may or may 
not be courses in subjects such as health or manners, depending 
on the circumstances. Our point is that in a proper scheme of 
general education the mind will acquire the capacity to meet 
various particular and concrete problems in matters of health, 
human relationships, and the like. In this view the education of 
the mind leads to a maturing of the whole person. On any other 
view, the obvious danger is that schools will set for themselves 
so inclusive an objective, or perhaps one should say so many 
objectives, that their central and essential contribution will be 
neglected. The schools cannot do everything. When they at- 
tempt too many tasks, they sometimes fail to do any of them well. 
Other social institutions are concerned with helping the indi- 
vidual develop personal competence, while the schools have the 
special and major responsibility of furthering the growth of in- 
tellectual abilities. Our discussion of the qualities which go to 
make up the complete man is based upon the assumption that 
though these qualities are of the utmost importance, though they 
are, indeed, vital to the future well-being of our society, they are 
not the sole responsibility of the schools, and their cultivation 
must not stand in the way of developing those qualities for which 
the school bears the primary burden of responsibility. 

However, the emotions and the will cannot be trained by theo- 
retical instruction alone. Doubtless the three areas of knowledge, 
each in its own fashion, raise and discuss problems of human 
value. Yet values cannot be learned solely from books. Consider 
the case of social adjustment. Thinking is a solitary process, and 
in so far as education cultivates intellectual skills it is producing 
individualists. To be sure, thinking is stimulated by discussion 
with other people, but in the last resort one has to make up one's 
mind by oneself. Yet living is a cooperative process. Social ad- 
justment is not something that just happens in the individual with 
the passing of years. One must learn to get along with other 
people just as one learns to use complex sentences. But the task 
of learning to get along with people is infinitely more difficult. 
Little children do not know how to get along with each other; a 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

teacher or some other adult must constantly control the situation. 
If adults lived with each other after the fashion of children and 
regulated their disputes as children do, we should never have had 
a free society. The child has much to learn before he can behave 
as an equal among equals or cooperate with strangers for a com- 
mon purpose. While the family and the neighborhood teach 
many of the preliminary lessons, the main task is really tackled in 
the training ground of actual situations, especially those of ado- 
lescence and adult living. 

But while we admit that general instruction is not enough for 
our purpose, we also call attention to the fact that the school as 
it stands is equipped to exercise an influence over its pupils 
through media other than formal teaching. The school is an 
organization in which a certain way of life is practiced. The pupil 
acquires a habit by the process of unconscious absorption; no 
sermon need be preached. A word of ridicule uttered by another 
pupil may produce the desired effect. Furthermore, the teacher 
can and does exert an influence on the student by his example as 
well as by what he says on the platform. In our specialized society 
the teacher may think it enough to teach a subject. But impres- 
sionable young people get from a teacher much more than subject 
matter. They judge every action. In some respects the young are 
exceedingly intolerant; they expect in their teachers perfection 
to which they themselves do not aspire but which they want to 
see exemplified in all those in authority over them. Teachers 
should be more aware of their influence in matters unrelated to 
their subject. 

Finally, in the school the pupil takes part in the various activi- 
ties. No one who has examined the early histories of schools and 
colleges with the tales of "cows in the chapel" and "rioting on the 
common" can have much regret that students now have more 
legitimate outlets for their exuberance. Nonetheless, it is true 
that we may pursue a good thing too far and encourage a tone of 
anti-intellectualism. Or we may, particularly in urban schools, 
provide insufficient activities, inducing mere bookishness. 

Ideally, as the name implies, activities should mean putting into 
practice the theory of the classroom. In the previous chapter we 

General Education in a Free Society 

stressed the importance of the ability to make relevant judgments. 
Activities provide a means by which the abstract skills imparted 
in the classroom are made relevant to concrete choices and ac- 
tions. The educational value of activities, such as it is, comes 
from the fact that habituation and experience are necessary for 
the development of any skill, including intellectual skills. Student 
government, within limits, is valuable in shaping the quality of 
later citizenship. It is only when the student faces the actual 
difficulties of governing by democracy that he begins to appre- 
ciate the complexity of a free society. To learn to resist pressure, 
to discover the power of a minority, to have free speech used 
against one, to prescribe rules and then to abide by them, is train- 
ing of the first order for democratic living. The connection of 
the activities with the curriculum is easy to show in the case of 
the French Club, the Debating Society, the Glee Club, and the 
Forum. It is harder to illustrate when \ve come to managerial 
offices and to athletics. Yet there is no doubt that decisiveness, 
initiative, and cooperativeness can be stimulated in the student 
who has to cope with problems encountered in the running of an 
organization or in team play. 

So far as the students are concerned, emphasizing the impor- 
tance of activities is bringing coals to Newcastle. What is needed 
is a proper balance between the values of intelligence and the 
other human values. Extracurricular activities must be thought 
of, not as something apart from the classroom, but as an extension 
of it. Yet to administer these activities formally is to deprive 
them of a good deal of their value, w r hich after all lies in the fact 
that they arc the spontaneous expression of students. Conversely, 
something of the spirit of the activities should be communicated 
to the student's classroom work. The difference between courses 
and activities is apt to correspond in the student's mind to the 
difference between duty and pleasure. Of course it would be 
foolish to expect young people always to love learning to the 
same degree that they love sports. Yet with the proper school 
atmosphere it should be possible to inject some of the zestfulness 
of activities into studies. It has been said that our businessmen, 
prospecting among school or college graduates for future em- 


Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

ployees, are chiefly interested in the student's proficiency in ac- 
tivities and not in courses. Whether this be true or not, we submit 
that the educational authorities should not abdicate their standards 
because of any pressures from the public. The school serves the 
community primarily as a leader in cultural standards. The great 
danger is that there should be two sets of values in the school 
intellectual and practical moving as it were on parallel tracks 
and never meeting. 

The atmosphere of the school, the informal role of the teacher 
and the activities these are all media by which practice and 
habituation supplement the work of formal instruction in the 
school. We must emphasize that rational explanation should ac- 
company or follow habituation; that, in short, mere habituation is 
not enough, as the case of language may show. On the one hand, 
it is true that one does not know a language adequately if one 
knows its grammar and vocabulary only; one must be able to use 
the language and speak it with something of its peculiar idiom. 
On the other hand, it is also true that a street Arab who can speak 
his native tongue fluently is not because of that fact to be regarded 
as educated in language; and linguistic proficiency will become 
firmer when accompanied by an understanding of the formal 
structure of the language. Nor is social adjustment only the 
habitual facility of getting along with other people; it is also and 
essentially the understanding of other persons of their desires, 
capacities, and valuations. Poise comes from an inner reserve, 
from a clarity and conviction as to purpose. Without these, per- 
sonal force is apt to degenerate into that flashy and indeterminate 
quality miscalled "personality." 

Have we exhausted all the potentialities of the school in the 
preceding account? No, not wholly. When the curriculum, the 
pervasive atmosphere of the school, and the activities, having 
done their best, still fall short of expected results, then the school 
must have recourse to types of instruction in specific subject 
matters. There is a difference between implicit and explicit in- 
struction. By the former we mean indirect instruction, as when 
a student acquires skills of thought and communication from 
courses in general education, or acquires initiative and resource- 

General Education in a Free Society 

fulness from his participation in sports. The normally intelligent 
youth will be able to draw his own conclusions, carrying over 
into particular cases the spirit of his whole training. But there are 
those who must be told specifically and explicitly. For instance, 
while many pupils will be able to absorb relevant knowledge 
about health from the general course in biology and other allied 
courses, others will need explicit instruction in personal hygiene. 
Again, while some will learn manners by contagion from the 
established practices of the school, there will be others who will 
have to be told the rules of polite behavior in so many words. 
A school serving a community of first-generation immigrants 
may have to introduce courses on the American way and on 
American standards of living. However, such explicit instruction 
should be regarded as remedial and as peripheral to the cur- 
riculum. Because the circumstances vary, no uniform list of such 
special courses can be given, but some suggestions may be made. 

Education is not complete without moral guidance; and moral 
wisdom may be obtained from our religious heritage. By law and 
by custom little sectarianism is now to be found in the great body 
of American schools and colleges. However, much of the best 
tradition of the West is to be found in the distillations of the 
prophets, in the homilies and allegories of an earlier age, and in 
Biblical injunctions. These are not the property of a sect or even 
of Christians; they constitute the embodiment of experience on 
the ethical plane which is, or should be, the heritage of all. 

It is clear that physical health is a gift bestowed by heredity 
and confirmed for the individual by the care given to him in his 
early years. But the role of the school in the development of 
health may be decisive. Although the first responsibility in this 
matter rests with the family and the community, in some places 
the schools must assume the task of giving direct instruction in 
health, personal or civic. For many young people the elementary 
facts about diet, rest, exercise, drugs, and disease will have to be 
learned away from home if they are to be learned at all. Such 
instruction may make the difference between a debilitated and a 
healthy community. The subject may take time from other 
pursuits of more central intellectual importance. But no educa- 

Areas of General Education; the Secondary Schools 

tional or social system is sound unless it rests on solid physical 

In an earlier section we spoke of the importance of shop train- 
ing for students who intend to go into scientific or technological 
work. Such experience is important for the general education of 
all. Most students who expect to go to college are now offered 
an almost wholly verbal type of preparatory training, while hand 
training and the direct manipulation of objects are mainly reserved 
for the vocational fields. This is a serious mistake. The bookish 
student needs to know how to do things and make things as much 
as do those students who do not plan to take further intellectual 
training. The direct contact with materials, the manipulation of 
simple tools, the capacity to create by hand from a concept in 
the mind all these are indispensable aspects of the general edu- 
cation of everyone. In some schools pupils receive such training 
in the elementary grades. Other students gain such experience 
outside of school; but for those who have had no experience in 
the use of tools, a high-school course may offer the only pos- 

In modern society, where few children automatically follow 
their fathers' vocations, the school must inevitably give some help 
in choosing a career. Any treatment of American society should 
acquaint students with many sides of the conditions which they 
will have to face. Yet some students will need more detailed in- 
formation about the requirements and possibilities of various 
kinds of work. Formal course instruction is of doubtful value 
for this purpose, which can be better served by individual guid- 
ance and by the provision of suitable reading in the school library. 

Beyond the knowledge of future work, the student needs an 
experience in actual work. Clearly the school itself cannot be 
expected to provide this experience in any formal way. Yet it is 
beneficial for all, even more so for those who expect to enter 
business or one of the professions than for those who will engage 
in some form of manual or craft work. It is important that this 
experience be of such a kind as to contribute to the total produc- 
tivity of society, although it need not be manual labor. In other 
words, it is desirable that it be genuine, rather than made, work. 

General Education in a Free Society 

We repeat that we are thinking here not of any formal school 
requirement but of what is necessary for the maturing of a young 

It is obvious that our account of education in its bearing on the 
entire human being presupposes a general theory of human nature 
and of human values. It is equally obvious that in the nature of 
the case such a theory had to be assumed rather than explicitly 
formulated in this report. A contrast with current tendencies 
may help clarify our views. In a natural reaction against the in- 
herited type of formal and bookish learning, educational practice 
has tended to swing to the opposite extreme and to replace the 
traditional courses of the curriculum with highly specific and 
practical courses. The danger here is that training is being sub- 
stituted for education. More recently a reaction to the reaction 
has appeared, which would place great books in a central, even 
monopolistic, position and which tends to identify education 
exclusively with cultivating the ability to think. We have taken 
a position somewhere between these two. We have stated that 
education looks to the whole man and not to his reason alone; 
yet we have maintained that the whole man is integrated only in 
so far as his life is presided over by his reason. While we thus 
regard the cultivation of the mind as the chief function of the 
school, we view reason as a means to the mastery of life; and we 
define wisdom as the art of living. We have stressed the impor- 
tance of the trait of relevance; and we have urged that, while in 
school, the pupil should be helped to see beyond conceptual 
frameworks and make concrete applications. Yet since the school 
by its nature cannot reproduce the complexity of actual life, a 
merely functional approach to teaching is inadequate also. 

An extreme and one-sided view easily calls attention to itself 
and gains fervent adherents; but a balanced view is apt to be less 
immediately striking. Reasonableness does not lead to exciting 
conclusions because it aims to do justice to the whole truth in all 
its shadings. By the same token, reasonableness may legitimately 
hope to attain at least to part of the truth. 



General Education in Harvard College 

IN previous chapters we have discussed the aims and the basic 
problems of general education. We have also suggested possible 
applications of our views to the secondary schools, although in 
so doing we were keenly aware of the impossibility of presenting 
a single neat pattern according to which they should all be or- 
ganized. Our task in this chapter is to cross the divide that 
separates the general from the specific, and to discuss with some 
particularity the application of our views to Harvard College. In 
the pursuit of this task we shall necessarily be concerned with 
many aspects of the complex structure and organization of a 
single university. 

While we believe that a discussion of a single college is far 
from irrelevant to our main theme, we wish to leave no doubt 
that the recommendations made for Harvard in this chapter are 
not specifically intended for other American institutions of 
higher learning. If it is necessary to recognize wide variations 
among schools, it is equally necessary to recognize the even 
greater variations among colleges. The simple structure of ele- 
mentary education in America becomes more complex at the 
secondary level and divides into an enormous diversity at the 
college level. This variety is the product of circumstances which 
are still at work, which may lead to an even greater diversity 
during the next generation, and which would make any attempt 
to impose a single program of general education upon all colleges 

It is probable that many persons, including a sizable proportion 
of the teachers in the colleges, continue to approach all prob- 
lems of higher education as though the term, college, had a single 
specific meaning throughout the United States. Such a view, to 

General Education in a Free Society 

the extent that it still exists, is an anachronism which stands in 
the way of any realistic analysis of the problems of higher edu- 
cation. A brief survey of the principal varieties of the genus 
college in America may help to make clear why we are confining 
our discussion of the higher learning to a single institution. 

Types of Collegiate Institutions 

CHRONOLOGICALLY, the first of the institutions of higher 
learning in America are the liberal colleges. These may be inde- 
pendent institutions or parts of a university. Some of them are 
coeducational, some are for one sex only. Their distinguishing 
characteristics are that they ordinarily require four years or the 
equivalent for the bachelor's degree and that they are not pri- 
marily vocational in character. 

During the last three generations there has been a rapid growth 
of undergraduate vocational colleges. These, like liberal col- 
leges, ordinarily require four years for a degree, but they provide 
a primarily vocational training rather than one devoted largely, 
if not entirely, to the humanities, the social sciences, mathematics 
and the sciences. The vocational colleges include those preparing 
for the professions of engineering, agriculture, and teaching, as 
well as the many undergraduate colleges of business. They may 
be independent or parts of universities. Many of them are com- 
bined with a liberal arts college, both ordinarily being parts of a 
large university. This has been particularly true of schools of 
business and of education, and in such cases the first two years 
are ordinarily spent in the liberal arts college of the university, 
after which time the student transfers into the vocational college 

for his last two years of work. 


The present century has likewise seen an enormous growth of 
junior colleges. These are two-year colleges which may be either 
vocational or liberal in emphasis; they usually offer terminal vo- 
cational courses as well as courses in the humanities, social sci- 


General Education in Harvard College 

ences, and sciences. The present movement for the establishment 
of technical institutes is but the most recent variation in what is 
apparently a major development in American education, these 
technical institutes being junior colleges with a predominantly 
vocational emphasis. 

The fourth variety of institution is the vocational school which 
follows high school but lacks a clearly recognized standing 
either as a junior college or as a four-year college. This category 
includes most of the proprietary business colleges, nurses' training 
schools, and the trade schools and other similar institutions which 
require high-school graduation for entrance but do not aim to do 
work of the breadth that is expected of college students. 

In all these institutions except liberal colleges general education 
is usually confined to the first year or two or is omitted altogether. 
Their major commitment to special or vocational education re- 
quires them to make competent engineers, nurses, farm man- 
agers, accountants, dental assistants, draftsmen, or secretaries in 
a period of time which seems always too short. There are so 
many skills to be learned, so much technical knowledge to be 
acquired, and the penalty for the lack of them is so direct and 
sure for the young graduate in his first job, that the claims of 
general education are either denied altogether or are grudgingly 
recognized and pursued in a half-hearted fashion in a few sur- 
vey courses. 

During the last few years the leaders in vocational education 
at the college level have themselves begun to state with emphasis 
the case for more attention to general education. Thus a recent 
report of the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Educa- 
tion recognizes the inadequacies of an exclusively technical edu- 
cation and suggests that much greater attention be given in the 
education of future engineers to many of the subjects which have 
no immediate relation to engineering. It is interesting that the 
report seems particularly concerned about the small amount of 
aesthetic training given to engineers and with their lack of in- 
formation about, and participation in, public affairs, both civic 
and philanthropic. Just what effect this point of view will have 
upon the vocational colleges remains to be seen, but we heartily 

General Education in a Free Society 

agree that it would be a very great loss to society if those persons 
who are leaders in scientific research and in technology are at the 
same time most laggard in cultural interests and in civic re- 

Junior colleges and the technical institutes ordinarily make at 
least a gesture toward general education. Most of them set aside 
a third or a half of a two-year vocational curriculum for liberal 
courses. Somewhat more comprehensive requirements in general 
education are to be found in the two college years which precede 
the vocational years of undergraduate teachers' colleges and 
schools of business administration. Only in the fourth category, 
the vocational or trade school not of collegiate standing, is 
general education sometimes, though not always, altogether 

But it is obvious that liberal colleges should not be the only 
higher institutions concerned with what may properly be called 
the ends of human action. The capacity to think objectively, to 
communicate, to discriminate among values, and to make rele- 
vant judgments, is as desirable for young people who attend 
junior colleges and trade or professional institutions as for those 
who devote four years to a less definitely vocational training. 
But it is also obvious that the variety of colleges makes a single 
prescription impossible, and there necessarily will be differences 
both in the amount of time devoted explicitly to general educa- 
tion and in the nature of the offering designed to achieve it. 

General Education in Liberal Colleges 

EVEN among the liberal colleges there has developed an increas- 
ing amount of diversification, so much so that it is often difficult 
for a student to transfer from one of these colleges to another and 
to carry on work of the kind earlier begun. Without attempting 
a comprehensive description of these various experiments, a brief 
characterization of some of them may help to throw light upon 


General Education in Harvard College 

certain of the problems involved, as well as to give perspective to 
our discussion of Harvard College. It may be said that there are 
now five major approaches to the problem of general education 
in these colleges: (i) distribution requirements, (2) comprehen- 
sive survey courses, (3) functional courses, (4) the great-books 
curriculum, and (5) individual guidance. 

The first of these is the most widely used. It came in as an 
attempt to ameliorate some of the shortcomings of the elective 
system, and it consists of requirements concerning how, in the 
interests of breadth, a student should distribute a portion of his 
courses among the various areas or departments. Sometimes it 
includes the prescription of one or two or three courses or sub- 
jects. Sometimes it merely requires courses in particular fields 
or areas. 

Those colleges which have become dissatisfied with distribu- 
tion requirements have most often substituted a set of survey 
courses in humanities, social sciences, and physical and biological 
sciences. These courses usually demand about half of the stu- 
dent's time during the first two college years, although they 
occasionally demand all or nearly all of it in those years. They 
have proved administratively feasible and are now widespread. 
There are enormous differences among such courses in choice of 
material and manner of treatment. We shall have more to say 
about them later. 

The term, functional, has been given to courses which deal 
explicitly with some important phase of active life, such as main- 
taining health, choosing a vocation, managing and raising a fam- 
ily, or buying goods and services wisely. The analysis of the 
human being given at the close of the last chapter might be taken 
as a basis for a set of functional courses. The required "core" 
program at the General College of the University of Minnesota 
is of the functional type. The recent report of the American 
Council on Education, entitled Design for General Education, 
describes four such courses: personal and community health, 
problems of social adjustment, marriage and family adjustment, 
and vocational orientation. 

The great-books program has received wide publicity, espe- 


General Education in a Free Society 

cially following its adoption by St. John's College. It means 
spending four years in the study of approximately one hundred 
great books of the Western tradition, supplemented by ancient 
and modern languages, mathematics, and laboratory science. The 
four years are entirely prescribed; there are no electives and no 
specialization. A number of other colleges give courses in hu- 
manities or literature in which a few of the more literary and 
philosophical of the great books are read, but they otherwise 
depart fundamentally from the principles exemplified in the 
St. John's curriculum. 

The phrase, individual guidance, is used here to describe the 
programs of such colleges as Bennington, Sarah Lawrence, and 
Black Mountain, where the first year or two of the student's 
program is given to a number of elective courses chosen by the 
student for exploratory purposes. The theory is that the student 
will try out a number of interests to discover which are deep 
enough to serve as foundations for later work. Once the student 
has found a really genuine intellectual interest, his college pro- 
gram is planned around this central interest. The resultant pro- 
gram may be very broad or it may be similar to concentration in 
a more conventional college. There is an important difference 
between this approach and that of the old elective system. The 
exploratory courses are purposely left small so as to give the 
student intimate contact with the teacher. A tutorial or advisory 
system brings the youn^ student into regular conferences with a 
member of the faculty who is given a considerable amount of 
information about the student. Thus the student's program, as 
it takes shape, may be almost as much under the supervision of 
the faculty as if it were prescribed. 

All of these approaches to the problem of general education 
are evidences of some degree of dissatisfaction with the elective 
system, but beyond that they have little in common. There is a 
very great spread between the entirely prescribed curriculum at 
St. John's and the more conventional system which gives rela- 
tively great freedom of choice. Rather than attempt to pass 
judgment upon these various proposals we prefer to recognize 
the value of the era of experimentation, to express the hope that 

General Education in Harvard College 

experiments will continue, and to confine our further discussions 
of general education in the colleges to one particular institution, 
Harvard College. 

The Present College 

HARVARD'S present structure and condition is the ground on 
which we must build, the context within which we must plan. 
We may begin with a most important consideration, Harvard's 
present size. It is a large institution, and it is one part of a much 
larger university. A number of years ago the size of the entering 
class was set at 1000; it has not always been held to this limit. 
The total number of undergraduates in the years immediately 
preceding the present war ranged between 3500 and 3600. 1 The 
Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which is responsible for both grad- 
uate and undergraduate instruction, numbers more than 300 
above the ranks of teaching fellow (prcdoctorate) and annual 
instructor. The number of distinct courses offered to under- 
graduates is normally more than 400. Even during the war, de- 
spite large defections in staff and students, the undergraduate 
offering did not fall below 300. 

Harvard draws its students from all sections of the country, 
all types of schools, and virtually all economic levels. Year by year 
the student body samples more and more thoroughly all strata of 
American life. This tendency is fostered by a carefully consid- 
ered and active policy which allows promising students to enter, 
or through scholarships brings them to Harvard, from virtually 
all walks of life. The percentage of freshmen admitted to Har- 
vard from New England has dropped steadily through the years 
to a present 48 per cent. An additional 24 per cent come from 
the Middle Atlantic states, 14 per cent from the northern Mid- 
dle states (Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, 

1 Harvard University numbered, in the same period, some 8000 students in all 
its divisions. 


General Education in a Free Society 

and Ohio), and about 3 per cent from the Central states (Iowa, 
Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) . 
Four per cent are from the South, 4 per cent from the Far West, 
and 3 per cent from the Territories and from foreign countries. 
In the entering class of 1944, 490 schools were represented, 244 
of them public schools. About half the students in Harvard Col- 
lege now come from public schools. Their entrance from virtu- 
ally all types and sizes of public schools throughout the country 
is fostered by a flexible and liberal admissions policy, to be re- 
viewed below. 

Harvard's policies have also succeeded in greatly broadening 
in recent years the economic base from which students are drawn. 
During 1940-1941 the financial assistance awarded to under- 
graduates exceeded a third of a million dollars. This sum is 
equivalent to almost one fourth of the total college receipts from 
tuition. Particularly the National Scholarship Plan, though it 
involves relatively small numbers of students of high promise, 
has been administered to further these trends. About three 
fourths of the national scholars come from public schools, pre- 
dominantly in the Middle West. Roughly three fourths of them 
come from families with annual incomes of less than three thou- 
sand dollars, about a third from families with incomes less than 
two thousand dollars. 

In recent years capable students have been able to enter Har- 
vard with almost any type of educational background provided 
in this country. Prior to 1942 candidates for admission were 
offered a choice between two plans of examination; those coming 
from distant places might under certain conditions enter without 
any examination. In addition to Plan A (Old Plan), under which 
the candidate took a series of separate College Entrance Board 
examinations in prescribed and elective subjects until the whole 
quota of admission requirements had been completed, the pro- 
spective student might apply under Plan B (New Plan). This 
latter plan placed great stress upon the school record and the 
principal's recommendation but did not specifically prescribe the 
content of school studies other than English. Under Plan B the 
candidate was required to take at the end of his last year in 


General Education in Harvard College 

school four College Board examinations of the comprehensive 
type in addition to the scholastic aptitude test. One of the exam- 
inations had to be in English; the other three were chosen from 
a list of about a dozen subjects. Applicants from areas outside 
the northeastern seaboard also might enter Harvard without 
examination, provided that they ranked in the highest seventh of 
a class numbering at least seven during their last two years at 

Since 1942 the former type of College Entrance Board exam- 
inations has been given up because of the complications involved 
in the examination and admission of new freshmen three times a 
year. At present the special objective aptitude and achievement 
tests of the College Entrance Examination Board, taken in a 
single day, formerly required of scholarship candidates alone, are 
used for all candidates for admission. The scholastic aptitude test 
contains both a verbal and a mathematical section. The general 
achievement test consists of nine sections (English, French, Latin, 
German, Spanish, physics, chemistry, biology, and social studies), 
from which the candidate for admission may choose any three. 
Consequently, every boy is tested on a basis which nearly all 
types of schools meet and to which the programs of practically 
all students can be fitted. Special emphasis is placed upon the 
school record and upon the principal's recommendation. It may 
be fairly stated, therefore, that Harvard puts virtually no* pre- 
scriptions in the way of able students seeking admission, except, 
of course, those relating to aptitude and to high-school achieve- 

We have already mentioned the undergraduate curriculum of 
more than four hundred courses. We may now inquire into its 
existing elements of design. A concern with liberal and general 
education is not in any sense new at Harvard. It has been the 
object of continuous scrutiny and revision these many years. 
The entire undergraduate curriculum was reviewed comprehen- 
sively by a faculty committee, and new regulations were insti- 
tuted by the faculty as recently as 1940-1941. What we possess 
in this regard, therefore, exists by intention and design, not by 
accident or default. We shall appraise it in this light. 


General Education in a Free Society 

Over a considerable period the tendency of the Harvard fac- 
ulty, for what have been considered adequate reasons, has been 
to prescribe only the most general outlines of the educational 
structure, leaving the widest latitude as to its content. Probably 
the most striking characteristic of the present curriculum is pre- 
cisely this: there is virtually no prescription except of form, and 
even this is extremely flexible. The student at all points is pre- 
sented with an extraordinarily broad choice of content. There 
is at present no course required of all undergraduates at Harvard. 
The only course prescribed at all by name is one in English com- 
position, English A. It must be taken by all students who have 
not demonstrated proficiency in the use of English by direct 

Beyond this, the only direct prescription of content at Har- 
vard is a reading knowledge of a single foreign language, de- 
termined by passing either an examination or an intermediate 
language course. This requirement may be satisfied before en- 
tering college by passing the appropriate achievement test of the 
College Entrance Examination Board with a certain grade. Until 
lately this requirement specified French or German. In a recent 
accession of global sentiment the faculty expanded it to include 
Latin, ancient Greek, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japa- 
nese, and Arabic. 

Of the total curriculum, sixteen courses are required for the 
bachelor's degree. Two degrees are at present offered, the A.B. 
and S.B., the requirements for them differing only in the school, 
or occasionally college, preparation in ancient languages. 

The entering freshman, with the aid of his faculty adviser, 
makes a first choice of studies among a list of courses "regularly 
open to freshmen." At the present time about forty-eight distinct 
courses are so listed, actually eighty-four half-courses, most of 
which form paired sequences, distributed among twenty-one 
departments. This can scarcely be considered a restrictive pre- 
scription. But even this is by no means binding. Students who 
enter Harvard with good school preparation are permitted to 
engage directly in more advanced courses. About a third of the 
freshman class take advantage of this opportunity. 


General Education in Harvard College 

Toward the end of the freshman year, in consultation with his 
adviser and a representative of the field of his choice, the student 
selects a field of concentration, to which at least six of the sixteen 
courses offered for the degree are to be devoted. At present 
thirty distinct fields of concentration are listed, a number which 
may be increased by special combinations. No more than two 
courses in the field of concentration may be of definitely ele- 
mentary grade. This prescription is intended to ensure that every 
student acquires at Harvard a reasonably penetrating experience 
in one area of learning. 

A further prescription is designed to assure some breadth of 
general education. Until recently all students were required to 
take at least four courses of distribution: courses falling outside 
the area of concentration. Certain elementary language courses, 
including English composition, could not be offered for dis- 

In 1941, new requirements were adopted by the faculty as a 
result of the study alluded to above. These further liberalized 
the existing rules. All courses offered by the Faculty of Arts and 
Sciences were divided into three areas, further subdivided into 
eight sections. Two sections form the area of natural sciences; 
two that of social studies; and four the area of arts, letters, and 
philosophy. Certain courses in elementary language (including 
English A) and composition, public speaking, and military and 
naval sciences are excluded from all sections and areas. The rule 
is that each student's program must include at least one course 
from each of four sections, and that all three areas must be repre- 
sented. In order to discourage excessive specialization it is further 
required that the total program of each student contain at least 
six courses outside any one section. One course in military or 
naval science may be substituted for a course in one of the four 
sections, provided that the remaining three sections represent all 
three areas. 

The extreme flexibility of this provision must be emphasized. 
A single section in the area of social studies includes the entire 
curricular offerings of the departments of economics, govern- 
ment, psychology, and sociology, together with most of anthro- 


General Education in a Free Society 

pology. A single course in mathematics can dispose of an entire 
section which includes all of mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, 
engineering sciences, and physics. A single course in the history 
of science or of religion satisfies the prescription in a section 
which includes all types of history taught at Harvard. 

This is, then, the present state of educational prescription at 
Harvard: one prescribed course in English composition for fresh- 
men who cannot demonstrate their proficiency; a reading knowl- 
edge in one of ten languages, ancient or modern; a freshman 
curriculum which limits, though not finally, the choice to about 
forty-six courses; a choice of concentration among thirty-two 
fields, many of them further subdivided; a prescription of general 
distribution so wide as to include in most of its sections the entire 
curricula of several departments. 

This remarkable catholicity of choice is reserved for general 
education and for the election of a field of concentration. Once 
the latter has been chosen, a program of genuine, even detailed, 
prescriptions may come into play. The several departments ordi- 
narily have definite ideas of what is to be included within the 
immediate scope of their interest. They make rigorous demands 
upon the student's activities and time; and in the absence of 
virtually all definition of content in general education, concen- 
tration inevitably dominates the curriculum. 

One result is that many undergraduates go to considerable 
lengths of specialization at Harvard. A feature of the present cur- 
riculum which lends itself to this tendency is the very sketchy 
separation between graduate and undergraduate courses. In each 
department courses are divided into a group primarily for under- 
graduates, a middle group for both undergraduates and gradu- 
ates, and a group primarily for graduates. In most departments 
the middle-group courses form much the largest section. Properly 
qualified undergraduates find little difficulty in entering even 
those courses primarily designed for graduate students. The 
wholesome result is that undergraduates regularly find themselves 
in direct competition with graduate students in advanced courses 
in all fields. 

Concentration culminates in the General Examination. This is 


General Education in Harvard College 

normally required, ordinarily in the last year in college, of all 
students concentrating in any field except chemistry and engi- 
neering sciences. The General Examination is designed to test a 
student's understanding of the entire field in which he concen- 
trates. Unless a student can demonstrate in this examination that 
he has mastered the subject of concentration as a whole, he is 
ineligible for the degree, whatever his record in courses. 

As stated above, at least six courses are regularly required for 
concentration. Superior students, however, ordinarily take an 
honors program. This may demand further courses in the field 
of concentration, as well as the submission of an honors essay or 
thesis based upon special reading or original research. 

This brings us finally to what is often regarded as the most 
distinctive element of present Harvard education, the tutorial 
system. Students in fields in which General Examinations are 
given ordinarily are tutored from the beginning of their sopho- 
more year. The tutoring is done by a member of the field of con- 
centration and is usually restricted to the area of this field. 
The departments vary greatly in the stress laid upon tutoring 
and its integration with more formal types of instruction. Some 
of them employ primarily predoctorate teaching fellows for 
tutoring; others use the full facilities of their senior staff. Some 
departments stress the importance of tutorial instruction; others 
give it no definite place in the curriculum. The role of the 
tutorial system in the general pattern of Harvard education will 
be discussed later. It will be enough here to note that at present 
it forms part of the system of special rather than of general edu- 
cation and in certain instances makes a notable contribution to 
the success of the concentration program. 

Whatever vagueness may at present attach to general educa- 
tion at Harvard, therefore, the system of concentration is clear, 
definite, and full of content. An impressive battery of educa- 
tional machinery is arrayed in its support: the teaching depart- 
ments, prescribed courses, the system of honors, the tutorial 
system, and the General Examination. It offers the able and 
enterprising student an opportunity for a remarkably penetrating 
experience in the field of his choice. On the whole, concentra- 


General Education in a Free Society 

tion has been a distinct success at Harvard. In striking contrast, 
general education at Harvard is at present dismissed with a vague 
exhortation on its desirability and the essentially negative pre- 
scription that beyond his area of concentration the student take 
two or three courses of something almost anything. 

It may seem that we have been discussing general education 
solely in terms of subject matter, forgetting the values and quali- 
ties which it seeks. We do not mean to suggest that the distribu- 
tion rule has been the only influence tending to promote the 
general education of Harvard students. To repeat what was said 
in Chapter II, general education is distinguished from special 
education not so much in terms of subject matter as in terms of 
method and outlook. It is erroneous to conclude that because 
Harvard College requires no subjects to be studied by all students 
that it, therefore, offers no training in the essentials of general 
education. It is clearly of much more importance that honest 
thinking, clearness of expression, and the habit of gathering and 
weighing evidence before forming a conclusion be encouraged 
than it is that students be required to take any particular group 
of introductory courses. We believe that there are altogether 
valid reasons for requiring students to have some things in com- 
mon, but the reasons for a common body of learning and of ideas 
should not be confused with the quite different reasons for an 
approach to learning more conducive to the objectives of a gen- 
eral education than are courses designed primarily for specialists 
or would-be specialists. 

Under the system which requires a certain amount of distribu- 
tion of courses, the student usually takes, in addition to those 
courses in his major or concentration field, a number of introduc- 
tory courses in other fields. Such courses have ordinarily been 
planned, organized, and taught primarily for those students who 
intend to take additional courses in the same field. Rarely have 
they been organized or taught for those students whose study of 
the subject ends with an introductory course. Frequently they 
have given excellent training in thoroughness and in detailed 
analysis within the range of a somewhat professionalized intro- 
ductory course, but they have not often overcome the narrow- 


General Education in Harvard College 

ness which is an inevitable aspect of academic departmentaliza- 
tion and they have not often provided an insight into the rela- 
tionships of ideas and of bodies of learning. They have, in other 
words, not been designed primarily for the purposes of general 
education. Their contributions to general education have ordi- 
narily been incidental or even accidental rather than primary and 
intentional. Those who have taught them have been more con- 
cerned with the learning and the internal logic of their special 
field than with the relation of their materials to any general pat- 
tern of ideas or of information. Even so, their contribution to 
general education has often been considerable, and we are en- 
couraged to believe that if courses which are only incidentally 
designed for the purpose of general education prove valuable for 
it, courses specifically designed and taught for that purpose will 
be even more valuable to students in giving them training in 
methodical thinking and discrimination, in the arts of communi- 
cation and in the ability to make relevant judgments, as well as 
in helping them develop a frame of reference within which the 
relationship of general ideas takes on a more significant meaning. 
They will also furnish them with some common body of infor- 
mation and ideas. 

In the preceding sections of this report we have said relatively 
little about general education as common education, if only be- 
cause that aspect of it has too often been regarded as its principal, 
if not indeed its sole, justification. We have also been conscious of 
the disparities in the needs of students and schools, and have hesi- 
tated to advocate a common education which might prove to be 
unprofitable for a large proportion of those who would be sub- 
jected to it. But when we come to deal with a single college, it 
seems desirable to talk about general education not only in terms 
of the qualities which it seeks to elicit, but also in terms of the 
unifying influence which it can become. 

The present system of concentration and distribution in Har- 
vard College affords rich opportunities for specialization and, 
therefore, for differentiation. But it is weak indeed in the oppor- 
tunities it provides for the development of a common body of 
information and ideas which would be in some measure the 

General Education in a Free Society 

possession of all students. There has been, in other words, no 
very substantial intellectual experience common to all Harvard 
students. It would seem clear that communication on an ad- 
vanced level is impossible unless those who are seeking to com- 
municate with each other have some common body of knowledge 
and ideas, as well as some common training in the analysis of 
values and of relationships. The undergraduate, whether he be a 
concentrator in the sciences, the humanities, or the social sciences, 
should be able to talk with his fellows in other fields above the 
level of casual conversation. He should share in a common aware- 
ness of the importance of ideals and objectives, in a common 
understanding of the heritage which is the possession of his gen- 
eration. Nor will general education at the college level have 
been entirely successful unless the student has acquired some 
understanding of what is common to all fields of learning, as well 
as some understanding of the principal respects in which their 
aims and their methods differ. 

It does not follow from this argument that the system of con- 
centration should be abandoned. The committee has given con- 
sideration to certain programs which call for an entirely required 
curriculum, but it has no disposition to recommend the adoption 
of any of them. We believe that there are unquestionable educa- 
tional values to be gained from pursuing a subject well beyond its 
elementary stages. The much criticized departmentalization of 
the colleges is but a product of the enormous growth and speciali- 
zation of learning during the past two or three generations, and it 
would be entirely unrealistic and out of keeping with the growth 
of higher learning in modern times to propose that this differen- 
tiation should be supplanted by an organizational scheme unre- 
lated to the existing specialization and diversification. 

We conclude, then, that general education has been neglected 
in Harvard College, but we do not conclude that specialization 
should be abolished. It is of great educational importance that 
students be allowed to acquire something approximating a mas- 
tery of a particular segment of learning. There is no other device 
which provides quite the same educational values, no other which 
gives, at least to the more serious student, a comparable feeling 


General Education in Harvard College 

of satisfaction in exchange for good and honest work. The 
system of concentration, moreover, allows for the great varia- 
tions which exist even within a single college in background, in 
intellectual aptitudes and interests, and in professional intentions. 
But it is unnecessary for us to discuss the system of concentration 
at length; the whole tendency of academic organization favors it. 
We do, however, recognize that there are many teachers who 
believe that concentration has been carried to excess in certain 
fields. We suggest that this criticism should be faced more 
squarely in the future than in the past. 

If the committee favors the continuation of concentration, it 
also believes, to repeat, that the importance of training which is 
common to all students and of training which seeks explicitly 
and exclusively to achieve the aims of general education has been 
neglected. The claims of general education should be presented 
as clearly as the various departments press the claims of each of 
the fields of special learning, and to this end we shall recommend 
not only the adoption of certain requirements which the student 
must satisfy, but also that an agency be established within the 
faculty which will guard the interests of general education as the 
individual departments at present guard those of special edu- 

Before discussing the nature of our proposals for general edu- 
cation in Harvard College and the structure of such an agency, 
it may be well to say that we see no need for a radical change in 
the over-all course requirements for the bachelor's degree. Cer- 
tain specific proposals will be made later in this chapter, but they 
do not contemplate altering the number of years ordinarily re- 
quired for the degree, or the number of required courses. The 
experience of the past three years has indicated the limitations of 
an accelerated degree. The speed-up is perhaps adapted to the 
acquisition of certain skills or bodies of information intended to 
be put to immediate use. When the aims of education cannot be 
stated in terms of such skills or such immediacy, the value of in- 
tensive instruction pursued twelve months in the year becomes 
extremely doubtful. We have seen many students pass through 
such a system under the necessities of war, but most of them, and 


General Education in a Free Society 

particularly those whose course and examination records indi- 
cated high competence, have felt that they were losing many of 
the values of college training as a result of the brevity and the 
hurried character of their residence in college. This experience 
with a speeded-up program has served to strengthen the convic- 
tion that growth in intellectual and emotional maturity is of the 
highest educational importance, and that the development of 
such maturity cannot ordinarily be hastened by an accelerated 
curriculum. It is probably true that many of our students could 
be brought to a more mature level of intellectual and emotional 
understanding at a somewhat earlier age, but this can be accom- 
plished by the provision of more adult materials for study, by 
more rigorous standards, by a richer experience in extracurricular 
activities, and, even more, by work or travel or other pursuits 
undertaken entirely away from college, rather than by any such 
specious device as is involved in a slight increase in the length of 
the college year or in the number of courses taken. Experience 
of the war years reinforces the argument for the taking of four 
substantial, rather than five or six thinner and more compressed, 

This is not to say that there should be no exceptions to the 
four-year degree. There arc students and there are circumstances 
for whom and under which a three-year degree should be made 
possible. It is scarcely for us to discuss this problem at any 
length, but we believe that it is one which may well be considered 
at greater length in the future. We suggest that there be careful 
consideration of the relation of summer school to the work dur- 
ing the regular college year, with particular emphasis on the 
types of subject matter and on the methods of instruction which 
can be most profitably employed in such relatively short terms. 
While the wartime experience with the accelerated degree has 
indicated that acceleration has many limitations, wartime experi- 
ence with intensive language courses has supported the belief 
previously held by many teachers that languages can be most 
satisfactorily learned, at least for tool purposes, by intensive 
study over a short period of time rather than by the traditional 
three hours a week spread over one or more years. It seems safe 

General Education in Harvard College 

to assume that much the same conclusion will be found to be cor- 
rect for other subjects, while there will be some in which essential 
values will be lost by intensive cultivation rather than by a 
method which allows more time for reflection. 

Proposed Requirements in General Education 

GENERAL and special education are not, and must not be 
placed, in competition with each other. General education 
should provide not only an adequate groundwork for the choice 
of a specialty, but a milieu in which the specialty can develop its 
fullest potentialities. Specialization can only realize its major 
purposes within a larger general context, with which it can never 
afford to sever organic connection. General education is an 
organism, whole and integrated; special education is an organ, a 
member designed to fulfill a particular function within the whole. 
Special education instructs in what things can be done and how 
to do them; general education, in what needs to be done and to 
what ends. General education is the appreciation of the organic 
complex of relationships which gives meaning and point to the 
specialty. To some degree it should suffuse all special education. 
Every course given in Harvard College, however specialistic, 
should make some recognizable contribution to general educa- 
tion. To the degree that it fails to do this, it has failed to make 
its best contribution to the specialty as well. 

We wish to avoid a system in which general education is care- 
fully segregated from special education as though the two had 
nothing in common. But if there be no separation at all, if gen- 
eral education be left entirely to courses taught from a special or 
technical point of view, or with a special, sometimes vocational, 
end in mind, then general education must suffer even though 
almost any first-rate specialization promotes in some measure the 
ends of general education. 

We should have some courses in the college which seek to 

General Education in a Free Society 

fulfill the aims of general education exclusively and not inciden- 
tally, courses which are concerned with general relationships and 
values, not with the learning and the technicalities of the special- 
ist. We do not propose that these courses should all be taken at 
one time, or even in one period of the college career. It would 
be a mistake to set off a certain period for general education, 
leaving the remainder for nongeneral education, as though gen- 
eral education ceased at a certain point and had no relevance to 
subsequent study. General education should not be limited to a 
block of courses which the student is to take and get over with in 
order to go on with the more interesting and significant special 
study. It should be a pervasive and a lasting influence as well as 
a set of course requirements. It is with that aim in mind that we 
propose the following program. 

This committee proposes that of the sixteen courses required 
for the bachelor's degree students should be required to take six 
courses in general education. In any individual program no such 
course may be counted for both concentration and general edu- 
cation. Of the six courses, at least one shall be in the humanities, 
one in the social sciences, and one in the sciences. In the first two 
of these areas a particular course will be designated and required 
of all students. These courses will be described in a following 
section of this report. The prescribed courses in the humanities 
and the social sciences would be expected to furnish the common 
core, the body of learning and of ideas which would be a com- 
mon experience of all Harvard students, as well as introductions 
to the study of the traditions of Western culture and to the con- 
sideration of general relationships. In the area of the sciences it 
is proposed that there be established alternative courses to meet 
the needs of those students who come to college with marked 
divergences in their preparation and plans for special study, as 
well as with disparities in their competence in dealing with 
mathematical and scientific material. 

In addition to these introductory and required courses in gen- 
eral education, we propose that a student be required to take 
three further courses in general education. (It is understood that 
both of the introductory courses in science described later in this 


General Education In Harvard College 

chapter may be counted toward the general education require- 
ments.) No one of these additional or second-group courses shall 
be in the student's particular department of concentration, al- 
though one of them, and only one, may fall within the broad 
area in which he is concentrating. There will thus be a consider- 
able range of choice among the second group of general educa- 
tion courses. This choice will, however, be confined to the 
courses approved by the proposed Committee on General Educa- 
tion as fulfilling the aims of general education. Courses narrowly 
specialistic in character thus would be excluded from those satis- 
fying these requirements. 

It is proposed, moreover, that the introductory courses will 
not be the only new courses established for the purpose of gen- 
eral education, but that there will be a number of other new 
courses designed not to fill the needs of specialized training or 
concentration, but rather to achieve the aims of general educa- 
tion. Several possible courses are discussed later in this chapter. 
No one of these would be required of all students, although it 
would clearly fall within the jurisdiction and responsibility of 
the Committee on General Education to recommend any course 
or courses which seem to it particularly valuable for the objec- 
tives of general education. It is believed that there are now to be 
found in the offering of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences a num- 
ber of courses suitable for the purposes of general education, or 
which could with some modification be adapted to those pur- 
poses. The Committee on General Education would have au- 
thority to include in its list of courses which would fulfill the 
general education requirements courses now offered by depart- 
ments or divisions, or courses which might in the future be 
offered by existing agencies of the faculty, as well as courses 
sponsored by the committee itself. It is believed, further, that 
there are members of the faculty who would be glad to have the 
opportunity of offering courses fulfilling these requirements, and 
that the committee should consider and perhaps sponsor the giv- 
ing of such courses. 

It should not be assumed that all of the courses designed for 
the general education requirements or sponsored by the Com- 

General Education in a Free Society 

mittee on General Education would be mammoth introductory, 
and certainly not survey, courses. The first group of required or, 
as in the case of the two science courses, alternatively required 
courses would, it is true, be very large, although they would not 
be what is understood ordinarily by survey courses. But, in the 
second group of general education courses, it is believed that 
many of them would be relatively small, in some instances con- 
fined to students with special qualifications. It is hoped that some 
would be Mouse conference courses of the type being experi- 
mented with when the exigencies of the war calendar and the de- 
parture for war service of many instructors prevented the con- 
tinuation of what held promise of becoming a very interesting 

It is suggested that the required courses in the humanities, the 
social sciences, and the sciences shall be taken during the first two 
years of college. Under most circumstances it will be desirable 
for the student to take two of these courses during his freshman 
year and the third during his second year. The broad scope of 
these courses would be particularly helpful to the student who 
is preparing to choose a field of concentration. It is believed 
that the remaining, or second-group, courses in general educa- 
tion would not have to be taken at any particular time. It is, in- 
deed, proposed that most of them will be taken in the junior and 
senior years when the student is more mature, in command of a 
larger vocabulary and a greater body of learning, and is able to 
appreciate on a more advanced level some of the principles, 
values, and relationships which arc of special importance in the 
promotion of the aims with which we are concerned. General 
education should not be confused with elementary education. 

The problem of English composition is one which has per- 
plexed most faculties. Virtually all college teachers will agree 
that students should have a sound training in the essential tech- 
niques of English composition in high school, and that they 
should there have developed some facility of expression; that, in 
other words, they should come to college prepared to go ahead 
without the necessity of learning, or even of reviewing, the essen- 
tials of spelling, grammar, and syntax. We realize that composi- 


General Education In Harvard College 

tion is a never-ending discipline which can be only begun in 
schools and must be continued in college. But most college 
teachers, and this seems to be true in virtually every country, 
complain that the high schools do not equip their students with 
the capacity to write their own language clearly and grammati- 
cally, and that, therefore, the colleges must do a kind of work in 
composition which the schools should have done and which the 
schools should be able to do better than the colleges. The result 
has been that in most colleges there is some remedial requirement 
in English composition. At Harvard English A has been required 
of nearly all freshmen. It has already been observed that this 
course, the one which is taken by the largest number of Harvard 
students, does not count toward fulfilling the distribution re- 
quirements. This is evidently an indication of the faculty belief 
that English A has to do largely with the technique of writing 
and is not primarily a course in subject matter, that it is calcu- 
lated to develop a skill rather than to explore a field of learning. 

The present requirement in English composition has the merit 
of placing responsibility for improvement in the writing of 
English in a single agency. It has the corresponding weakness of 
segregating training in writing from the fields of learning. Since 
the responsibility for training in written communication is vested 
in the staff of English A, the other members of the faculty too 
often feel that they have little if any responsibility for the devel- 
opment of skill and facility in writing. This seems to us a serious 
weakness. What is desired is not primarily skill in writing lit- 
erary English or about English literature. Training in composi- 
tion should not be associated with the English Department only. 
It should be functional to the curriculum, a significant part of the 
student's college experience. It should, so far as is feasible, be 
associated with training in general education rather than with a 
single course or department. We realize that if training in com- 
position is everyone's responsibility, it may become no one's, but 
we believe that the ends sought by the present English A require- 
ment can be better achieved by the modification of the existing 

We propose that in place of English A as now given there be 

( 199) 

General Education in a Free Society 

substituted a procedure which will be more directly connected 
with the introductory courses in general education. It is assumed 
that all students will take at least one of the introductory courses 
in general education in their first year and that most freshmen 
will take two of these courses. We propose that during the first 
half of the freshman year the work in composition be limited to 
two class hours a week or one class and one conference hour, the 
emphasis to be placed upon the essential techniques and skills in 
writing. This would be required of all students who could not 
pass a test comparable in difficulty to that existing during the 
past few years. The bulk of the freshman class would, in other 
words, be required to do what might be called remedial work in 
English composition during the first semester of their freshman 
year. Even among those students who are required to take this 
training there will probably be such great disparities in previous 
education, as well as in capacity, that it will be essential to sep- 
arate them into sections by accomplishment and ability. 

During the second term of the freshman year the work in 
English composition would be required of all students. It would 
be given, not separately, but in connection with the courses in 
general education then being taken by the student. The classes 
in composition would, as classes, cease to meet. In their place 
the students would be expected to write frequent themes in con- 
nection with their general education course or courses. During 
the first experimental years the writing would probably be di- 
rected and corrected by the instructors in composition, but it is 
hoped that later all instructors in these courses might share in 
the task. Instructors in composition thus would come to have an 
intimate relation to the courses in general education. So far as 
proves feasible they should become members of their staffs. 
They would be expected to hold conferences with each student 
on each theme. Such individual conferences should more than 
compensate in educational value for the absence of formal classes 
in English composition during the second term. 

It seems to us that there should be no additional course credit 
for this work in English composition, but that it should be 
thought of as an integral part of the general education require- 


General Education in Harvard College 

ment, one of the stages in the process of improving the capacity 
to communicate thought, as well as further training in systematic 
analysis, in evaluation, and in the discernment of relevance. 



WE recommend the establishment of a standing Committee on 
General Education. This standing committee would have very 
much the same responsibility for general education that the de- 
partments, which are also committees of the faculty, have for 
special education. It would, in other words, have a general 
supervisory authority in this area, an authority which would 
include the administration, although not the making, of the 
rules applying to general education. It is for the faculty, with 
the approval of the Governing Boards, to vote the rules; the 
committee would supervise their enforcement. The committee 
would also be charged with responsibility for proposing to the 
faculty changes in these rules as experience indicates. 

As the various departments and divisions are responsible for 
certifying that the student has fulfilled the requirements for con- 
centration, so the Committee on General Education would be 
responsible for accrediting students' programs as fulfilling the 
requirements of general education. This function would ordi- 
narily present few major administrative problems, but because 
we believe it desirable to maintain elements of flexibility in the 
program for general education we think that there is need for 
some discretionary authority, and that, therefore, the general 
education requirements should not be administered in a purely 
mechanical manner, or by any agency with less standing and 
responsibility than a committee of the faculty. The standing 
committee, again following the example of the departments, 
would have the function of administering the budget allotted to 
general education and of fostering the establishment of courses 
serving the aims of general education. 


General Education in a Free Society 

We do not conceive of appointments in general education as 
being either exclusively or permanently tied to such courses. We 
think that it will be far wiser in any long-run view to avoid 
having two faculties, one for general and one for special educa- 
tion. Those teaching the general courses should continue to have 
departmental affiliations and, where possible, should offer both 
general and special instruction. Such a system should work to the 
advantage both of the courses which seek to deal with the broad 
aims of human activity with general ideas and with the inter- 
connections of fields of learning and of those which aim to 
promote the detailed study of particular segments of learning. 
The connections between teaching in the general and the special 
courses should be real and continuing. Members of the faculty 
who take part in one of the large introductory courses designed 
for general education should ordinarily serve in that capacity for 
a term of years and should retain some departmental instruction, 
either on the undergraduate or the graduate level, while doing so. 

The committee would be responsible for preparing a list of 
courses fulfilling the requirements of general education, even as 
the department or division lists those courses which satisfy its 
requirements. It would probably be desirable for the Committee 
on General Education to issue a pamphlet stating the rules gov- 
erning general education, the principles upon which they are 
based, and also the content, the scope, the methods, and the aims 
of the various courses which fulfill those requirements. 

It is possible that the program which we have proposed, if 
adopted, should not be put into effect instantaneously. Some of 
the courses in general education might well be given for one or 
two years to small groups of students, so that experience may be 
gained in suitable methods and materials, before they are offered 
as required courses, or even as courses open to all who might 
elect them. This period of experimentation would also give time 
in which to assemble a teaching staff for each of the large courses 
and to hold preliminary discussions among that staff. 

During such a transitional period the present rules for distribu- 
tion presumably would remain in effect. It will be a simple mat- 
ter for the Committee on General Education to assign each new 


General Education in Harvard College 

course to one of the areas and, if necessary, to one of the sections, 
into which the course offering is now divided. The new courses 
would thus count as fulfilling the distribution requirements so 
long as these remain. The committee should have responsibility 
for recommending to the faculty the time at which the change- 
over from the present distribution rules to the new rules applying 
to general education should take place. 

The members of the Committee on General Education should 
be appointed by the President, perhaps for terms so arranged 
that there would be continuity of membership. This might be 
accomplished by having three-year terms with one third of the 
committee retiring each year. There is no particular size which 
seems inevitably correct, but it is probable that a committee of 
approximately nine members would be suitable. One of this size 
could include a variety of areas within the Faculty of Arts and 
Sciences, and yet it would not be too large to make difficult the 
arrangement of meetings or the efficient conduct of business. 
Because of the central position of this committee in the entire 
scheme of Harvard education, it seems probable that the Dean of 
the Faculty should serve ex officio as chairman of the committee. 
It is assumed that the committee would include in its member- 
ship several members of the faculty who are responsible for the 
conduct of the courses in general education, but it also seems 
desirable that its membership should not be confined to them. It 
should, in other words, include members of the faculty not per- 
sonally involved in such courses, although there is probably no 
necessity for specifying in advance the proportion to be followed 
in the distribution of membership. This is one of the numerous 
questions which may be determined subsequently on the basis of 


General Education in a Free Society 

Proposed Courses in General Education 

BEFORE entering upon a discussion of specific course recom- 
mendations, we should like to refer to the principles which 
we already have expressed. Our proposals for courses in general 
education in Harvard College are based upon the philosophy of 
general education set forth in Chapter II. It is unnecessary to 
repeat here the argument there developed, but we think it appro- 
priate to insert this reference in order that readers who are con- 
cerned primarily with the problems of college education may be 
reminded that the college is an inseparable part of the entire edu- 
cational process. 

In Chapter II we discussed the separation of learning into three 
areas: the humanities, the social sciences, mathematics and sci- 
ence. The justification for that classification we shall not repeat. 
Nor shall we repeat here the principles which were stated in con- 
nection with our discussion of the secondary schools. We see 
general education in the colleges as a continuation of general 
education in the schools. The differences which appear in the 
later stages are those required by growth in maturity, in learning, 
and in the mastery of certain skills. Most of what we had to say 
in Chapter IV concerning the reasons for studying literature, the 
arts, the social sciences, mathematics and science, as well as the 
objectives of such study, applies as well to the study of those 
subjects in Harvard College. As we said in Chapter IV, we do 
not imply that the same subject matter should be studied again 
in college, still less that the same books should be used or the same 
standards maintained. We mean, rather, that general education 
in the college should be viewed as the continuation of a process 
which started in the schools. We assume that it will be carried 
forward on a much more advanced level, but we also assume that 
the educational values and the aims in the several stages of the 
process remain the same. 

( 204) 

General Education in Harvard College 

(a) The Humanities 

It is proposed that the course in the area of the humanities 
which will be required of all students be one which might be 
called "Great Texts of Literature." The aim of such a course 
would be the fullest understanding of the work read rather than 
of men or periods represented, craftsmanship evinced, historic or 
literary development shown, or anything else. These other mat- 
ters would be admitted only in so far as they are necessary to 
allow the work to speak for itself. Otherwise they should be left 
for special, not general, education. 

Literature is surrounded by a numerous company of attendant 
studies which profess to guide the student in the right approach, 
the proper understanding, the full enjoyment. These attendant 
studies occasionally assume the main place. Thus at various times 
philology, history of language, history of literature, biography 
of authors, discussion of literary form, criticism, prosody, and 
grammar may be found occupying the student's time and energy 
even to the utter neglect of that for which alone these worthy 
subjects were born. 

As scholarship, which once had only a shelf of Greek and 
Latin authors to tend, becomes ever more extensive, more co- 
ordinated, and more official, this danger of forgetting its prime 
purpose inevitably increases. The ancillary studies can and do 
at innumerable points assist the specialist in his professional effort 
to throw light upon literature. They belong unquestionably to 
his own full professional equipment. It is his business to further 
them and to train successors in their use. Moreover, progress in 
these studies is tangible, almost measurable. Progress in ability 
to take from literature what man most needs is, in comparison, 
intangible. Relatively it is unexaminable. What can be examined 
is largely knowledge about literature. But the knowledge it has 
to give as a part of general, as opposed to special, education is of 
another sort. It is knowledge through. It comes only through 
immersion in the literature. Knowledge about, though its origin 
and aim may be simply to aid the immersion, can in fact prevent 
and hinder its own purpose. 


General Education in a Free Society 

The scholar is of course aware of this. He has learned this les- 
son in his own progress through many a hard struggle to recover 
perspective. But if his chief occupation has been research and 
the training of others in research, a special effort of imagination 
is needed to distinguish what is, or might be, helpful to himself 
in reading a master from what will help a beginner who neither 
possesses nor will ever possess anything resembling his own back- 
ground or equipment. Here is the difficulty in designing a course 
in great literature for all students: that the modes of treatment 
proper to the specialist are a distraction to those who are not to 
become experts. A mere listing of books to be read would convey 
little without some specification of the mode of treatment. But a 
specification would amount to the course itself. And here we 
meet another difficulty. There is not one best way of introducing 
people to Homer or Plato or Dante. Or, if there is, which it is 
is not known. Freedom for the instructor is essential. He only 
teaches, in this field, by letting his students watch the play of a 
mind with a mind, that their minds may play in turn. The play 
he shows them must be representative of "the all in each of all 
minds," to use Coleridge's phrase, but it cannot be tied down to 
another man's notions of what is educative. And yet if a course 
in literature is to deserve to be compulsory there must be wide 
agreement both as to what it is attempting and how it will at- 
tempt that. 

A third difficulty is that there are no known ways of describ- 
ing ends or means in these matters which will not be construed 
by different readers to very different effects. Nonetheless, with 
the prime aims as defined above in mind, it may be said that the 
more specific aim is familiarity with as much of the greatest writ- 
ing as can be read and pondered in the limited time available. The 
proportion of reading to pondering is of course the turning point. 
There must be time for reflection or the familiarity will remain 
too verbal. This cuts down the amount that can be read. But 
since the best commentary on an author is frequently some more 
of his writing, and since great books are great in part through the 
power of their design, the amount for single authors cannot be 
cut beyond a point. The outcome is that fewer books can be 


General Education in Harvard College 

chosen. Each must be read completely enough for its parts to 
help one another to the full. Probably, therefore, a course which 
chose eight great books would be trying to do too much. A list 
from which a selection would be made might include Homer, 
one or two of the Greek tragedies, Plato, the Bible, Virgil, Dante, 
Shakespeare, Milton, Tolstoy. 

Both lectures and group discussions are desirable as aids to this 
reading. The main purpose of the lectures would be to launch 
certain themes for the discussions. Each of these books can be 
thought about and talked over through course after course. Care- 
ful husbandry of time will be needed. It will not be possible to 
consider more than some selection of those things in each book 
for which it has been most regarded; and this selection will need 
all the instructor's wisdom. It will include the greatest, most uni- 
versal, most essential human preoccupations first. Whatever is 
left unnoticed is sacrificed in the interests of these. The treat- 
ment which is attempted of these great themes can only do its best 
to be worthy of them. They themselves are its inspiration. Be- 
yond all techniques of pedagogy and scholarship these books 
have been masters of method. The instructor can only seek to 
be a means by which the authors teach the course. 

Some doubt may be felt whether the heights of these books 
may not be beyond the reach of large masses of the students. 
But they have always been admittedly beyond the reach of the 
vast majority of even their best readers. That has not made them 
less educative. And indeed the chief reason for the course, and 
the best argument for experimenting with it, is that too many 
students today have too little contact with thoughts which arc 
beyond them (apart from the specialties) and that many are in 
fact passionately if inarticulately hungry for greatness in the 
common cares of man. 

Other General Courses in the Humanities. Under the rules 
that we have proposed for the distribution of choice among gen- 
eral education courses all students might take one additional 
course in the humanities area, and those students not concentrat- 
ing in a department falling within that area might be allowed to 
take two or even three such courses. We do not propose to draw 


General Education in a Free Society 

up an inclusive list of courses suitable for fulfilling the general 
education requirements, but we think it desirable to say some- 
thing about the principles which should be observed in planning 
courses designed for that purpose. 

It seems to us entirely undesirable to have a course of the 
block-survey type which would include portions of all, or nearly 
all, of the humanities. What principle of synthesis would bring 
together in one, or even in two courses, the subject matter of 
philosophy, the fine arts, music, and literature (for the course on 
great texts would not exhaust the possible contributions of litera- 
ture to general education)? Such a broad survey of the super- 
ficial aspects of fields which have relatively little in common may 
be productive of a smattering of information, but it is not 
conducive to the growth of understanding or to the develop- 
ment of those intellectual qualities which we believe to be the 
chief goal of a general education. 

Nor is it sufficient to require that the student take some course, 
any course, in the humanities. Such a requirement apparently 
rests upon the assumption that any course in English or in a 
foreign literature, in philosophy, or in the fine arts, or music, 
simply because it is offered in one of those departments, will con- 
tribute to a liberal education. A course is not necessarily liberal 
or humanistic, and certainly not general, simply because it is 
offered by a department of literature, or philosophy, or art, or 
music. Such courses may be as specialistic as courses in the other 
two areas. 

Literature. The place of literature in general education was 
discussed at some length in the preceding chapter and again in the 
section dealing with the projected course on great texts. As we 
have just said, we assume that that course would not be the only 
one available for students who wish to satisfy their general edu- 
cation requirement by taking an additional course or courses in 
literature. It is evident that there are now offered at Harvard 
several different kinds of courses on literature, some designed for 
the specialist, some for general education. Just how many in the 
latter category should be made available, with some reshaping, 
for the satisfaction of the general education requirements is a 


General Education in Harvard College 

problem that should be determined by the Committee on General 
Education, and that decision should be subject to modification 
after further time for study and after the accumulation of addi- 
tional experience. Changes in personnel in the various depart- 
ments of literature will, of course, bring changes in the offerings 
of those departments, and such changes will occasionally affect 
the nature and number of the general education courses. 

In addition to literature courses offered by single departments, 
we believe it highly desirable to have courses on literature which 
fall within no single department, courses which in some fashion 
cross over the national boundaries which departments of litera- 
ture ordinarily reflect and offer opportunities for the study of 
types and styles of literature on a broadly comparative and philo- 
sophic basis. 

Philosophy. The place of philosophy in general education has 
been the subject of prolonged debate during the last few years, 
with no clear agreement emerging. One of the obstacles in the 
way of an agreement is uncertainty about the role of philosophy. 
It is sometimes said that philosophy offers a universal synthesis 
of all knowledge. That was approximately true two centuries 
ago, but since that time the natural sciences and large portions of 
what have become the social sciences have separated from the 
parent stem and have become enormously complex and special- 
ized disciplines of their own. Another difficulty usually encoun- 
tered in any discussion about the position of philosophy is the 
extreme claim sometimes made that only in and through philoso- 
phy can one attain a truly rational approach to the major prob- 
lems of life. The fact would seem to be that this is true for some 
persons but is wide of the mark for those to whom the methods 
of philosophy appear abstract and unreal. 

Yet when these caveats have been entered, it remains true that 
a very considerable proportion of college students can find in 
philosophy, if it be taught in a manner suited to their background 
and their needs, one of the most vital of intellectual experiences. 
We think that it would be serving no good purpose to require 
every student to take a course in philosophy. Such a rule would 
result in a watered-down course suitable neither for the philo- 


General Education in a Free Society 

sophically dull nor for the philosophically curious and adept. 
But if we believe that philosophy is a subject which cannot be 
required of all students, we also believe that there should be 
available at least two philosophy courses among the list of those 
suitable for fulfilling the requirements in general education. We 
do not mean to imply that two is a maximum number. We sug- 
gest only that it would be desirable to have one course which 
would be planned for those students who wish to take a general 
education course in philosophy during their freshman or sopho- 
more year, and another for students who prefer to take this 
subject in their senior, or possibly junior, year. We have ob- 
served many students who postponed taking a course in philos- 
ophy until they had attained a relative maturity of learning and 
of outlook, and then discovered that philosophy was superbly 
rewarding. But there are students for whom the same experience 
can come during the freshman or sophomore year, and we see 
no way of laying down a universal rule concerning the time at 
which students should take such a course. We do believe it im- 
portant to recognize that there are many students who will profit 
from work in philosophy provided their study of that subject 
comes relatively late, and that a course designed for students who 
have attained some mastery of another field of learning but who 
are beginners in philosophy should be made available, and that 
its membership be limited to them. 

It would be unwise for us to prescribe the organization or the 
content of either of these courses in philosophy. We can be 
more definite about their aims. They should aim to impart to the 
student the habit of self-criticism on the one hand the scrutiny 
of fundamental presuppositions and on the other they should 
impart perspective, the capacity to envisage truth synoptically, 
from the standpoint of "all time and all existence." Essentially 
they would be concerned with the questions raised by the great 
philosophers, questions which haunt any reflective mind, young 
or old. There are various ways of organizing the materials in a 
course in philosophy so that they will be suitable for the purposes 
of general education, and it is probable that courses offered by 
different instructors would follow varying methods of approach. 


General Education in Harvard College 

The analysis of the principal writings of six or seven of the great 
philosophers, the method long used with success in Philosophy A, 
would offer interesting parallels to the course on great texts, and 
the introductory course in the social sciences, which will be dis- 
cussed in the following section of this chapter. This approach is 
not, we believe, the only way of studying the philosophical ideas 
discussed by the greatest philosophers. Another approach is by 
the study of problems such as causality, change, free will, and 
truth. The third approach is the study of types of philosophy, 
such as idealism, pragmatism, naturalism, and realism. In effect, 
these three approaches the study of great masters in philos- 
ophy, of problems, and of systems are inseparable, since the use 
of any one method would involve the other two. We would 
propose still another way, altogether different from these just 
mentioned, for future consideration in connection with the de- 
velopment of philosophical courses in general education. This 
method has already been tried at Harvard with an increasing 
measure of success among beginning students. Such a course 
would have as its objective the study of the heritage of philos- 
ophy in our civilization. Western culture may be compared to a 
lake fed by the streams of Hellenism, Christianity, science, and 
democracy. A philosophical course based upon the study of 
these contributions might offer an extremely valuable way of 
considering the conceptions of a life of reason, the principle of 
an ordered and intelligible world, the ideas of faith, of a personal 
God, of the absolute value of the human individual, the method 
of observation and experiment, and the conception of empirical 
laws, as well as the doctrines of equality and of the brotherhood 
of man. 

The Fine Arts. The claim for the fine arts in general education 
rests on several assumptions: first, that the function of education 
is to develop our faculties of perception and understanding; sec- 
ond, that works experienced visually (architecture, sculpture, 
and painting) are a significant part of human culture and that the 
study of them is an academic discipline analogous in its methods 
and values to the study of literature or of philosophy. 

Fundamental to all learning in the field is the perception and 


General Education in a Free Society 

understanding of the means of expression in the visual arts. The 
forms of the arts are so varied, the body of material so vast, that 
no one can hope to comprehend all expressive means. Yet once a 
beginning has been made and a real grasp of the meaning of the 
forms of even a very small part of the total of art is achieved, the 
way to further understanding lies open. A student can go on by 
himself, once he has learned how to "see." Since early schooling 
is ordinarily so strongly literary, the majority of students come 
to college with at least some grasp of literature and, through 
popular music, the radio and records, some notion of music. 
Few, however, have ever been exposed to the visual arts. It 
seems to us, therefore, that it should be the obligation of the col- 
lege to correct this lack, by acquainting as many students as pos- 
sible with the visual arts through a systematic introduction in the 
classroom. Otherwise, a whole field of experience that is a sig- 
nificant part of human culture may remain closed. 

This committee does not feel competent to determine either 
the character or the content of general education courses in the 
fine arts. It is probable that both historical and analytical ap- 
proaches to the subject should be made available. The two 
methods might possibly be combined in a single course, but such 
a combination can be successful only if the instructor in charge 
believes in that approach. It is interesting that perhaps the best 
remembered general course in the fine arts ever given at Harvard 
was that of Charles Eliot Norton, who followed none of the 
present methods of bringing the student into direct contact with 
works of art. 

It has been proposed to us that an approach to the fine arts 
which would be nearer to the methods of architecture should also 
be made available, and a course on the elements of design might 
well prove to be a valuable experience for a large number of 
students. Such a course would deal with the fundamentals of 
surface, volume, and space, and would probably involve some 
elementary shopwork aimed to coordinate the elements of hand- 
work and design. 

Although we do not believe that training in the technique of 
the arts should be a part of general education, the development 


General Education in Harvard College 

of creative ability for the pleasure and satisfaction that creative 
work, even on a nonprof essional basis, can bring must be recog- 
nized. Opportunity should be given to the student to explore 
the possibilities for himself in drawing, painting, and modeling. 
Facilities and professional supervision should be provided on an 
extracurricular basis. Just as the student with musical talent can 
play in the orchestra or sing in the glee club with the best pro- 
fessional direction, so a student should be able to do water colors 
or model with the aid of really competent guidance. A studio 
open to all students with a professional painter or sculptor in 
charge is a desirable aim. 

Music. A training in the musical skills is hardly within the 
province of general education, but participation in choral singing 
or in orchestral performance can be of the greatest value for large 
numbers of students. The Harvard Glee Club has given a mag- 
nificent opportunity to hundreds of students to engage in one of 
the most rewarding of aesthetic experiences, one which, as we 
observed in the preceding chapter, contributes also to the devel- 
opment of social unity. The Harvard Orchestra has offered a 
similar experience for a somewhat more limited number who had 
already attained a sufficient degree of skill in the handling of 
musical instruments. 

A recognition of the importance of experience in musical ex- 
pression does not mean that we consider courses in the histdry or 
in the analysis of music to be irrelevant to general education. 
Such courses have in the past contributed largely to the durable 
satisfaction of many students, some of whom secure but meager 
profit from those subjects which must depend on verbal symbols. 
We believe that one or more courses in music should be designed 
and given for the purposes of general education, but we are not 
qualified to suggest which types of courses would be most suit- 
able for these purposes. 

(b) The Social Sciences 

It is proposed that all students take a course which might 
be called "Western Thought and Institutions." We considered 
the possibility of suggesting as a title for such a course "The 


General Education in a Free Society 

Evolution of Free Society," but that title carries with it implica- 
tions of indoctrination which would be unacceptable to many, 
and which might, indeed, convey an entirely false idea of its 
intentions. For while we agree that Harvard College should 
assume "a full and a conscientious responsibility for training men 
in the nature of the heritage which they possess, and in the re- 
sponsibilities which they must assume as free men for its enlarge- 
ment and perpetuation," we do not believe that the course 
should be one which would attempt to convince students of the 
eternal perfection of existing ideas and institutions. The central 
objective of the course would be an examination of the institu- 
tional and theoretical aspects of the Western heritage. 

It would be inappropriate for us to outline in detail a scheme 
of this course, or even to indicate all the topics with which it 
would be concerned. Its content and procedure should be 
worked out by the staff charged with its execution and later 
modified on the basis of experience in actually giving the course. 
In order to indicate somewhat more clearly the character of the 
course we have in mind we shall, however, suggest a number of 
topics and writings with which it could deal appropriately. 

Any course which attempts to consider the nature of the 
Western heritage must raise more questions than it professes to 
answer. It should open up questions of ends as well as of means, 
of values and objectives as well as of institutional organization. 
But it should also include an analysis of some of the great attempts 
which have been made to find answers to these questions. The 
course would, in other words, include an historical analysis of 
certain significant movements and changes in Western society 
together with the reading of substantial portions of certain of the 
classics of political, economic, and social thought which those 
changes have helped to produce. 

In a single course it would be folly to attempt a comprehensive 
survey of the entire range of European institutional development 
and social thinking from the time of the Greeks to the present 
day, and no such project is proposed. We believe that the course 
should be selective, not inclusive. It will, for example, probably 
be thought desirable to spend some time at the beginning in read- 


General Education in Harvard College 

ing portions of two or three of the great foundation treatises of 
political and social thought which came out of the civilization of 
classic antiquity. It may be doubted whether any other books 
succeed so well in raising certain of the persistent problems of 
organized life in society as do those of Plato and Aristotle. The 
study could not at this point be a thorough one in the sense in 
which advanced work in a field of concentration would be 
thorough, but it might prove to be intensely valuable in indicat- 
ing the nature of some of the more enduring problems. Along 
with the reading of portions of such books might well go lectures 
on the character of the Greek city-state, and possibly some con- 
sideration of the impact of the Roman Empire upon the culture, 
law, and political life of the ancient world. 

The proportion of time to be allotted to this primary material 
should be left for later decision. But it seems apparent that the 
principal emphasis in the course should be placed upon the evo- 
lution of such institutions as representative government and the 
reign of law, the impact of the Reformation upon society and 
government, as well as upon religion and philosophy, the growth 
of religious toleration, the nature and legacy of the natural-rights 
philosophy, the growing confidence in the power of reason to 
deal with human problems, the expansion of humanitarianism, 
the rise of the laissez-faire philosophy and its relation to the 
economy of the preindustrial age, and the impact of the techno- 
logical revolution upon industrial organization, the growth of 
populations, and the vast expansion of social and economic 

Let us repeat that we do not anticipate the comprehensive 
coverage of all of these topics or of others which might be sub- 
stituted for some of them, or even added to them. A general 
survey is apt to be a dreary and a sterile affair, leaving little 
residue in the minds of the students. But we also wish to reiterate 
the principle that narrowly specialized courses which may be 
far more thorough do not provide the answer to the evident need 
for some approach in the field of the social sciences to the prob- 
lems of a general education. The course on Western thought 
and institutions would not cover or even, we should assume, 

General Education in a Free Society 

attempt to deal with all of the major topics. There would be a 
constant need for selection and hence for emphasis. The attempt 
is not to survey all history and all political and social thought but 
to open up some of the great questions, to indicate the character 
of some attempted solutions of the past, to study a few of those 
topics and of the great statements of analysis or of ideals with 
some intensity. Not the least among the possible achievements of 
such a course might be the desire of students who had taken it to 
push deeper into some aspects of the field which had been opened 
to them. 

It is evident that there is an immense body of philosophical 
literature available for use in a course of this kind. The problem 
of selection will not be an easy one, and we do not wish to make 
that choice. We may suggest, however, that in the writings of 
Aquinas, Machiavelli, Luther, Bodin, Locke, Montesquieu, 
Rousseau, Adam Smith, Bentham, and Mill, to mention no others, 
one can find materials admirably suited to serve the purpose of 
such a course. These writings will be best understood and most 
valuable to the student when read in the economic, social, and 
political context of their times. They should, that is to say, be 
studied not simply as great books, but as great expressions of 
ideas which emanated from certain historical backgrounds. Only 
when their reading and interpretation are based upon a study of 
the times in which they were produced can the student come to 
have a genuine understanding both of their significance when 
first published and of their relevance to the problems of the 
twentieth century. 

It may be said that the course which we have suggested is 
beyond the capacity of the freshman or sophomore student. We 
agree that few of the materials proposed for the course are of 
the simplified textbook character. But we also believe that the 
course offers the best possible introduction to the general range 
of subject matter dealt with in the various fields of the social 
sciences, and that it will offer the student, even though he may 
fail to grasp the significance of much of the material at the time, 
a set of intellectual tools which will be of the greatest value to 
him. Although a course of the kind which we envisage has not 


General Education in Harvard College 

previously been offered at Harvard, it would draw heavily upon 
materials and methods used in two of the largest introductory 
courses, History i and Government i . The course is not unlike 
the very successful introductory course, "Contemporary Civili- 
zation," which has been given at Columbia during the past 
twenty-six years, although we suggest that it would be preferable 
to deal with fewer topics and to read longer portions of fewer 
books than has been customary in that admirable course. In a 
formal sense "Western Thought and Institutions" would be a 
new course, but it would thus be building upon the experience 
derived from courses which have been successfully taken by 
freshmen at both Harvard and Columbia. 

The course would have the additional merit of avoiding repe- 
tition of high-school work in the social studies. Students coming 
to it with a good high-school training in European history would 
find their earlier work of great value to them, but they would 
not be asked to rewalk the same paths. This discouraging re- 
survey of European history or of problems of American life has 
been a not infrequent aspect both of the older variety of fresh- 
man survey courses in history and of some of the more recent 
interdepartmental survey courses in the social sciences. 

It is evident that although this proposed course would not 
parallel with any exactitude the proposed course on great texts 
which we suggest for the area of the humanities, there would be 
rewarding opportunities for cross reference and for comparison 
in the two courses. These two courses, as well as the projected 
introductory course in the physical sciences, would form a com- 
paratively coherent and unified background for an understand- 
ing of some of the principal elements in the heritage of Western 

Other Courses in the Social Sciences. There will in time be a 
number of courses in the area of the social sciences, in addition to 
the required course on Western thought and institutions, which 
can be used for satisfying the requirement in general education. 
It may be assumed that several existing courses, doubtless altered 
somewhat to meet the needs of nonconcentrators, will be found 
acceptable for this purpose. 


General Education in a Free Society 

What was said earlier in this chapter about general education 
courses in the humanities is pertinent to the consideration of 
courses in the social sciences. We believe that a course will not 
necessarily be suitable for the purposes of general education 
simply because it is offered by the Department of History, or 
Economics, or Government, or Sociology, or Anthropology, or 
Psychology. Nor will the fact that it is an introductory course 
make it useful for students who intend to take no further work 
in that subject. Yet there are courses in all of these subjects which 
achieve many of the aims of general education. How many of 
them can be made available for students who have had no pre- 
liminary work in the field must be determined in each instance. 

Block-survey courses including largely unrelated segments of 
three or four of the social sciences seem to us as undesirable as 
synthetic groupings in the humanities. We think that there are 
many possibilities for courses in the social sciences which are 
genuinely interdepartmental, but there must be some carefully 
thought-out principle of coherence involved or the course will 
likely fail to attain any unity. There is, after all, no very real 
educational advantage in having a course taught by several per- 
sons, simply because they have their professional homes in 
different departments, and there are obvious weaknesses involved 
in such cooperation unless the central aim is both clear and 
attainable. Otherwise, the course is apt to combine superficial- 
ity with an almost complete lack of integration except in the 

American Democracy. We may suggest a single example of a 
course which would draw on materials in all, or nearly all, of the 
social sciences, and yet would not consist of a series of unrelated 
segments. It seems to us that both as a sequel to the course on 
Western thought and institutions, and as a preparation for the 
responsibilities of citizenship, one of the most suitable courses 
which could be devised for the purposes of general education 
would be one to which the title "American Democracy" might 
be given. Such a course would have as its immediate aim a ma- 
ture consideration of certain of the problems which confront an 
American citizen. It would be in no sense a study of current 


General Education in Harvard College 

events or even of current situations, even though it is to be 
hoped that it would be intimately related to the problems of the 
present day. Nor would it consist of a series of blocks of lec- 
tures, each block given by a man from a different department. 
The proposed course would be interdepartmental in the sense 
that it would draw upon materials and techniques employed in 
various social sciences, but it should not be given by a panel of 
lecturers each having a vested right to a certain number of weeks. 
The staff of this course, like that of the proposed course on 
Western thought and institutions, would almost certainly be 
drawn from men in all, or nearly all, of the social-science fields, 
but it is assumed that a single member of the faculty would be 
placed in charge. 

A course on American democracy would involve the study 
of a carefully selected group of topics which could be considered 
in terms of their historical development, of their relation to the 
institutional and philosophic pattern of which they form a part, 
and which would be viewed in terms of the values they reflect, as 
well as analyzed from the aspect of the detached critic. 

The best examples of the approach that we have in mind are 
to be found in three volumes written by foreign students of 
American society. Tocqueville's Democracy in America and 
Bryce's American Commonwealth have long been among the 
most valuable books for anyone concerned either with the past 
or with the present nature of American democracy. Gunnar 
Myrdal's An American Dilemma deals with a much more limited 
subject matter, but he approaches it with such breadth that his 
method indicates the possibilities for a study of current problems 
which draws upon relevant materials in all of the social sciences 
and which also transcends the contemporaneous. 

A course of this kind cannot be created overnight. The as- 
signment will be an extremely difficult one. What was said earlier 
about the need for time and for experimentation with small 
groups will be particularly true here. But we also feel that an 
investment in such a course might pay remarkable dividends. 
The course would probably be intended primarily for those who 
are not concentrators in one of the social sciences. It might, 


General Education in a Free Society 

however, prove invaluable for those concentrators, as well as 
for students who take no subsequent college work in the social 

Just as the course on Western thought and institutions would 
be more valuable to those students who have had some sound 
work in European history in high school, so those students who 
attained a reasonable mastery of American history before enter- 
ing college would find their knowledge of that subject of par- 
ticular importance for a course on American democracy. 

Human Relations. We think it unnecessary to suggest many 
new courses in the social sciences at this time, since we believe 
that there will be many proposals made by social-science depart- 
ments or by individual members of the faculty for courses which 
the Committee on General Education will need to consider. We 
do, however, wish to recommend that a course in the field of 
"human relations" be carefully considered by the standing com- 
mittee and, if it appear feasible, be offered as one of those in 
general education. The need for such a course has been expressed 
by students and alumni. In many of the answers to the question- 
naire sent out to a large body of Radcliffe alumnae last summer 
the view is expressed that the greatest lack in the general training 
offered in college is precisely at this point. The difficulty of the 
task is almost as great as the importance of the problem. There 
is relatively little material suitable for undergraduate instruction 
now available. It is certain that a course of this kind, if it is given 
at all, should be given on an experimental basis over a number of 
years and to a class of limited numbers. But the potential value 
of such an experiment seems so great that it would be short- 
sighted to rest content with a recognition of the difficulties in- 
volved and to make them the basis for a policy of inaction. 

(c) Science and Mathematics 

General Considerations. From the viewpoint of general edu- 
cation the principal criticism to be leveled at much of present 
college instruction in science is that it consists of courses in spe- 
cial fields, directed toward training the future specialist and mak- 
ing few concessions to the general student. Most of the time in 

General Education in Harvard College 

such courses is devoted to developing a technical vocabulary and 
technical skills and to a systematic presentation of the accumu- 
lated fact and theory which the science has inherited from the 
past. Comparatively little serious attention is given to the ex- 
amination of basic concepts, the nature of the scientific enterprise, 
the historical development of the subject, its great literature, or 
its interrelationships with other areas of interest and activity. 
What such courses frequently supply are only the bricks of the 
scientific structure. The student who goes on into more ad- 
vanced work can build something from them. The general stu- 
dent is more likely to be left simply with bricks. Eventually he 
constructs his educational edifice elsewhere with other materials. 

It frequently happens that even the student who concentrates 
in a science is preoccupied with his specialty to such a degree 
that he fails to achieve a view of science as a whole and of the 
interrelationships of the special fields within it. A general edu- 
cation in science needs to be provided for the future scientist or 
technologist as well as for the general student. One could 
scarcely insist that all students of history or literature should learn 
some biology, for example, but that the prospective physicist or 
chemist need not do so. 

It is necessary, therefore, to provide science courses at the 
introductory level which have general rather than specialistic 
education as their primary aim. Such courses should represent 
reasonably broad syntheses within the areas of science and mathe- 
matics the physical sciences, for example; or a fusion of 
physics with mathematics or chemistry; or biology, animal and 
plant. They should be taught so as to convey some integrative 
viewpoint, scientific method, or the development of scientific 
concepts, or the scientific world-view. They should convey 
verbally and through the laboratory some understanding of the 
various means by which science progresses: increase in the pre- 
cision of observation and measurement, the evolution of funda- 
mental concepts, the introduction of new instruments and 
procedures, the fructification of one science by another, the pro- 
gression from description to analysis and synthesis and from the 
qualitative to the quantitative. 


General Education in a Free Society 

The creation of introductory courses in science, however, 
does not exhaust the contribution which science should make to 
general education or our concern with the general education of 
the scientist. The body of science includes not only special 
knowledge and skills but conceptual interrelations, a world-view, 
and a view of the nature of man and knowledge, which together 
constitute the philosophy of science; a history which forms a 
continuous and important segment of all human history; and 
writings which include some of the most significant and impres- 
sive contributions to all literature. 

These aspects of the sciences are frequently almost entirely 
neglected in the college teaching of science. It sometimes hap- 
pens that members of philosophy departments devote some at- 
tention to the philosophy of science. Unfortunately, the profes- 
sional philosopher may possess only a remote appreciation of the 
nature of science. In any case his contribution usually does not 
reach either science students or members of the science staff. It 
is philosophy of science for students of philosophy. Similarly, 
the history of science may be dealt with in separate courses or 
even as at I larvard in a separate department of the college. Such 
devices, valuable as they may be intrinsically, merely emphasize 
the avoidance of instruction in the history and philosophy of 
science by scientists themselves. 

The claim of general education is that the history of science 
is part of science. So arc its philosophy, its great literature, and 
its social and intellectual context. The contribution of science 
instruction to the life of the university and to society should in- 
clude these elements, since science includes them. A science 
course so constructed as to encompass these elements makes an 
important contribution to general education. It need not by that 
token make a poorer contribution to an education in science. 
One can defend the view that it is all the better science for being 
good general education. 

Beyond the introductory courses which are described below, 
general education in science and mathematics needs to be pro- 
vided for the advanced student. Ideally this should be an integral 
part of the education in his specialty, pervading all his courses. 


General Education in Harvard College 

In part it might also take the form of special courses in the science 
departments, probably seminars, which examine on a mature 
level, and with reasonably well-prepared students, important as- 
pects of the philosophy, history, and interrelations of the sciences. 
The great books of science can make an important contribution 
in this process. They offer the well-trained student extraordi- 
narily rich material for consideration and discussion and can 
help him to attain a breadth of view and intellectual grasp of his 
field scarcely to be equaled by other means. 

An Introductory Program. What we propose to do concern- 
ing general education in science and mathematics at Harvard 
must be designed to meet the needs of students who vary widely 
in aptitude and training. All that we can depend upon in the 
entering student in these fields is some instruction in elementary 
algebra and geometry. At the other extreme we admit students 
who have had as much as four years each of mathematics and 
science. Though this entire gamut of possibilities is represented 
in the entering classes, the great bulk of students come to Har- 
vard with an appreciable foundation in school mathematics and 
science. All but a handful (twenty-three out of nine hundred in 
a recent count) have had at least three years of school mathemat- 
ics, including algebra, demonstrative geometry, and usually a 
second year of algebra. Almost 40 per cent have gone at least 
two courses beyond second-year algebra. About 95 per cent of 
the students have studied biology, chemistry, or physics for at 
least one year at school; and about 50 per cent have taken more 
than one year of work in these sciences. 

Mathematics. A specific level of proficiency in mathematics 
is not at present required for admission to Harvard College, nor 
do we propose that it should be. The minimal program of 
secondary-school mathematics alluded to in the foregoing chap- 
ter, however, which includes elementary algebra and demon- 
strative geometry, is essential for pursuing the program in natural 
sciences which we envisage for the general student, and for 
understanding many matters which arise in concentration pro- 
grams outside the sciences. 

As indicated above, almost all students who now come to 


General Education in a Free Society 

Harvard have had at least one year of school mathematics beyond 
this minimal program. The very small number who offer only 
two years of school mathematics are likely to have been selected 
for admission because of particular gifts which outweigh their 
paucity of mathematical training. From the point of view of 
general education, therefore, one might be permitted the opti- 
mistic view that our students have already completed a minimal 
program in mathematics before entering college. 

It must be conceded that with some students this instruction 
has not "taken"; at the time of entering college they are not pro- 
ficient in the mathematics studied at school. This is a problem 
which must be faced by those departments of the college which 
give instruction in fields which require mathematical under- 
standing and competence. We take the position, however, that 
for the general student the student whose work in college 
makes no specific mathematical demands there is little point, 
whatever his level of performance, in prescribing remedial math- 
ematics. It would necessarily involve much simple repetition of 
work already done in secondary school and would offer little 
hope that such a second exposure would result in substantial 
educational gain. 

Science. To provide for introductory general education in the 
sciences it is proposed that two new courses be instituted: one in 
the principles of physical science and one in the principles of 
biological science. Both courses are to be planned primarily to 
give students an insight into the fundamental principles of the 
subject and the nature of the scientific enterprise. In neither of 
them is a systematic factual survey contemplated. Both courses 
should communicate by discussion and example the methods by 
which scientific knowledge has advanced within the past four 
hundred years and should illustrate the combination of logical 
analysis, careful observation and experiment, and imaginative 
insight which has characterized the great scientific advances of 
the past. 

In the physical sciences, scientific modes of inquiry are applied 
to relatively simple systems. These lend themselves to precise 
definition and measurement, their elements can be analyzed and 


General Education in Harvard College 

often separately controlled, and their properties can be described 
and to a degree predicted. The physical sciences therefore pro- 
vide the clearest, simplest, and most rigorous examples of scien- 
tific analysis and approach. 

The biological sciences are concerned with a much more com- 
plex level of material organization, one which therefore is less 
open to precise definition, specification, and control. A course 
in biological sciences should convey to students some insight 
into the way in which science approaches such complicated and 
multivariant systems, and some understanding, therefore, of the 
nature of problems which are encountered in even more extreme 
form in the social studies. 

Both courses should include lectures, laboratory work by in- 
dividual students, and conferences. Though each of the courses 
could profit intellectually from the advice of scientists and other 
interested scholars, and each might be enlivened with occasional 
guest lectures, each of them should represent primarily a syn- 
thesis in the mind of a single person who is entrusted with the 
design and direction of the course as a whole. 

The way in which topics are presented is itself of great impor- 
tance. Too often, even in introductory courses, problems appear 
simply in the form of educational bric-a-brac, hurdles in per- 
formance for the student. In such courses as we have in mind 
every effort should be made to have the student understand and 
assent to the problems which confront him as genuine scientific 
problems. To a degree this result can be achieved by thorough 
presentation and discussion, clarified by demonstrations and 
work in the laboratory. One prime difficulty, however, is that 
much of the material to be considered does not in fact present 
problems to the contemporary scientist; even the well-informed 
student already knows the solutions. Such situations can fre- 
quently borrow a very stimulating interest and heightened value 
by being presented in their proper historical context. Many 
topics which might now represent only scientific detritus, dull 
and dry facts and formulas to be memorized by the student, were 
matters of absorbing concern and controversy in the past. Their 
educational value and intellectual quality are bound up inti- 


General Education in a Free Society 

matcly with this past status. The historical development of the 
subjects considered in our courses, therefore, should occupy an 
important place in their design. 

The kind of presentation which is contemplated will neces- 
sarily force the omission of much of the conventional subject 
matter of biology and the physical sciences. Nevertheless, the 
student who grasps the content of this type of course should 
emerge with a rich understanding of the nature of science and 
of many basic phenomena. Such a course might be expected to 
fill a much more substantial place in the total residue of his formal 
education than would more detailed and systematic courses in 
the individual fields of physical or biological science. It is pro- 
posed that all students at 1 larvard College take either the course 
in physical sciences or that in biological sciences. 

A Course in the Principles of Physical Science. This course 
must be planned for freshmen and sophomores who vary widely 
in scientific and mathematical preparation and who can be relied 
upon to possess only a general interest in science. Rather than 
provide the student with a systematic presentation of the ma- 
terials of one science, this course should develop particular 
aspects of the scientific enterprise within the whole range of the 
physical sciences. To give the course greater unity, it should be 
built about a core of physics. Materials from other sciences 
chemistry, astronomy, and geology should be introduced only 
to the degree that they are pertinent to the problems under dis- 
cussion. The course would probably omit, for example, descrip- 
tive chemistry and descriptive astronomy. It should, however, 
explore basic chemical concepts: atomic theory, the periodic 
system, laws of chemical combination, valence, and so on. Simi- 
larly, celestial mechanics might provide the material for much of 
its discussion of dynamical principles. 

Such a course must discard at the outset any attempt to survey 
the material of the sciences which compose it. Rather, it must 
look to some dominant intellectual pattern to guide its selection 
of material. In the present case the pattern is to be found in the 
development of basic physical principles and concepts, and the 
methods and approaches by which they have been developed. 

General Education in Harvard College 

This is not intended to be merely a course about science. Ii 
will contain much solid scientific content. The student will 
learn fundamental facts and laws and will solve problems the- 
oretically and in the laboratory. He will do so, however, with a 
highly selected subject matter, which in every case is chosen to 
subserve the major aims of the course. 

The emphasis on historical development in this course is in no 
sense to constitute merely a humanistic garnishing of its factual 
material. On the contrary, it is introduced to illuminate and 
vitalize the content with which it is integrated. The attempt 
should be made in this course to teach science as part of the total 
intellectual and historical process, of which, in fact, it has always 
been an important part. The student should gain thereby an in- 
sight into the principles of science, an appreciation of the values 
of the scientific enterprise; and he should also learn much of the 
subject matter of the physical sciences. 

It is expected that this course will be given in two versions 
adapted to the wide differences in mathematical achievement 
of entering students. Both editions of the course should 
have precisely the same educational objectives and fundamen- 
tal structure. They would differ only in rate and rigor of 

The heart of the course in physical sciences should be its lec- 
tures. They should include much illustrative material slides, 
motion pictures when available, and demonstrations. The course 
ideally should be directed by a single lecturer, though it might 
well be enlivened from time to time by other lecturers on special 
topics. The lectures should be supplemented by conference sec- 
tions meeting once each week. These should be differentiated 
according to the interests, preparation, and aptitude of the stu- 
dents. They should afford opportunity for discussion with the 
instructor and for exercise in dealing with theoretical problems. 
The number of students in each section should be small enough 
to permit general participation in discussion. Beyond formal 
classwork, students should be expected to solve problems and 
write occasional themes. Outside reading should include contact 
with original scientific sources. In part, these will have to be 


General Education in a Free Society 

prepared specifically for this course, since no adequate collections 
of such material are at present available. 

The laboratory associated with this course is of special im- 
portance. It should be planned to illustrate the methods by 
which physical problems are approached and solved. Every 
effort should be made to convey these as genuine experiences, 
either by presenting the student with problems of which he does 
not know the answer or, when this is impracticable, by casting 
back the situation into the historical framework in which it con- 
stituted a genuine issue. The student should thus have a series of 
real experiences in the scientific solution of material problems. 
He should also have considerable exercise in the employment of 
scientific data to yield general solutions, basic principles, and 
predictions of the behavior of systems with which he has had as 
yet no contact. 

A Course in the Principles of Biological Science. The aim of 
the course in biological sciences is to present an integrated view 
of the science of living organisms, animal and plant. It should lay 
constant emphasis upon general concepts and upon modes of 
scientific approach to biological problems. It should convey not 
only knowledge concerning organisms, but how this knowledge 
was acquired and how it impinges upon other areas of human 
interest and learning. 

The course is expected to develop its main themes in a pro- 
gram of lectures. These should draw appropriate material from 
the fields of zoology, botany, physiology, paleontology, and 
geology. About this nucleus should be built a program of 
demonstrations, individual work in the laboratory, and confer- 
ences. The laboratory should provide abundant opportunity for 
examining living organisms. The student should have access to a 
microscope and should see living protozoa, protoplasmic stream- 
ing in plant cells, the beating of cilia, and the capillary circulation 
of the blood. Only in this way can he come to appreciate the 
constant flux and motion that characterize all life. 

For induction into scientific modes of investigation, the lab- 
oratory, in close association with the lectures, might well review 
a number of classic experiments in the history of biology. Those, 


General Education in Harvard College 

for example, by which Redi, Spallanzani, and Pasteur demolished 
the belief in spontaneous generation are well within the compass 
of this course. Pasteur's experiments also introduce the students 
to such practical matters as antisepsis and techniques of pasteuri- 
zation. Simple modifications of the original procedures of 
Priestley and Ingenhousz demonstrate with great clarity the inter- 
relations of photosynthesis and respiration in plants and animals, 
and the interplay of both processes in maintaining animals and 
plants in organic balance. 

Group demonstrations prepared and performed by the in- 
structing staff can exhibit to the students many phenomena which 
they have neither the skill nor resources to demonstrate for 
themselves: the electrical activities of the beating heart and of 
the brain, the action of hormones and drugs, the effects of vita- 
min deficiency, and so on. Museum exhibits and selected mo- 
tion pictures can also aid greatly in clarifying and integrating the 
work of the course. 

A large responsibility in achieving the educational aims of 
this course should rest upon work in conferences. Organisms are 
so complex in structure, and so varied in their activities and in- 
terrelations, that the mere passive reception of information about 
them by the student, either in lecture or by reading, is inade- 
quate. He must be given the opportunity to talk about biology 
with others, to view its concepts from many different aspects, 
and to correct and refine his notions of them in the dialectic 
of question and answer, discussion and argument. The con- 
ferences also must be the principal means of directing and 
organizing the student's outside activities in connection with 
the course: his visits to museums, field trips, and his outside 

Apart from elementary textbooks, many lucid and stimulating 
presentations of special aspects of biology exist, written by au- 
thorities for the use of nonspecialists. Examples are T. H. Hux- 
ley's Marts Place in Nature, T. H. Morgan's Evolution and 
Genetics, A. V. Hill's Living Machinery, and W. B. Cannon's 
Wisdom of the Body. Such contacts with original authority 
represent a particularly satisfying experience for the student 


General Education in a Free Society 

and lead his interest more deeply into specific phases of biologi- 
cal thought. 

A serious attempt should be made in the course also to bring 
students into contact with examples of the classic literature of 
biology. Such writings as Harvey's Circulation of Blood, por- 
tions of Darwin's Origin of Species and Descent of Man, parts of 
Claude Bernard's Introduction to Experimental Medicine, Wil- 
liam Beaumont's Observations on the Physiology of Digestion, 
and Grcgor Mendel's first paper on plant hybridization, all make 
fine reading for the beginning student. Fortunately some of 
these works Darwin, Harvey, and Beaumont, for example 
arc available in cheap editions. Others are not so readily acces- 
sible. It may prove desirable in this course to prepare an anthol- 
ogy of source materials in biology. 

Tutorial and Advising 

THE system of individual instruction and guidance to which the 
term, tutorial, was applied has been in effect for a varying length 
of time in different departments, having been adopted in some 
thirty years ago, in others during the twenties. One department, 
Chemistry, has never adopted the system, while several of the 
other sciences experimented with it for a few years and then 
abandoned it. 

It is to be remembered that the tutorial system at Harvard has 
never been the only method of instruction employed in any field 
of study. It was added to a fully developed course system that 
has remained intact even in those departments in which tutorial 
instruction has been most strongly emphasized. To be sure, a 
limited number of students were allowed to substitute additional 
work with their tutors for one or two or even three courses, but 
even in these cases tutorial work, on any quantitative basis, occu- 
pied a minor position. It is a significant fact that during this entire 
period the organization, procedure, and value of the course sys- 


General Education in Harvard College 

tern were generally taken for granted, at least to the extent that 
it was assumed that courses would continue to be the principal 
method of instruction in Harvard College. 

During the past two decades there have been many investi- 
gations of the tutorial system by a variety of agencies. The 
system has been discussed in three reports of the Student Coun- 
cil (1926, 1931, 1939). It was the subject of a careful report 
made by the Overseers Committee to Visit Harvard College in 
1934. It was also the subject of discussion in 1936 by a committee 
of the faculty which prepared a report recommending certain 
changes in the system, and it was the subject of a report published 
and circulated by the Teachers' Union in 1940. In 1943 the 
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences addressed a number of 
questions to the members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on 
the subject of the tutorial system, and in answer to these ques- 
tions one hundred and sixty-seven letters were written by indi- 
vidual members of the faculty to the Dean, many of the letters 
dealing at considerable length with the problems of tutorial in- 
struction, some of them containing suggestions for its modi- 

We have not attempted to make another survey of this particu- 
lar method of instruction, but we felt that a discussion of general 
education in Harvard College involved a consideration of the 
tutorial system, if only because of the possibility that tutorial 
instruction might be more closely related to general education. 
We have given attention to all of the discussions and proposals 
to which we have just referred. We have also had the advantage 
of reading nearly two hundred replies to a questionnaire on the 
tutorial system sent out during the summer of 1944 to alumnae 
of Radcliffe College who had received such instruction during 
the last twenty years. We should have liked to make such an 
inquiry of the alumni of Harvard College, but because so large a 
proportion of them were scattered over the world in the various 
armed services, it did not seem possible to secure a well-distributed 
group of replies. 

It has occasionally been proposed that tutorial instruction 
should be related to general education rather than to concentra- 


General Education in a Free Society 

tion in a special field. We believe that such a change would not 
be desirable, even though we are strongly of the opinion that 
tutoring does in many cases make a very substantial contribution 
to general education. This contribution is not made through 
tutorial in nebulous subjects, but rather through the discussion 
of books and of ideas in a given field of concentration. It is true 
that tutorial has sometimes been little more than a process of 
preparing students for divisional examinations, but this has been 
tutorial in its least admirable form. If tutorial consisted of noth- 
ing more than what is ordinarily called "filling in the gaps," or 
of coaching for divisional examinations, it would deserve to be 
abandoned altogether. Fortunately the best tutors have done far 
more than help their students cover certain ranges of a subject 
matter in which they felt inadequately prepared. We have al- 
ready referred several times to the educational deficiencies of a 
purely survey course. What has been said about the cruder 
forms of coverage practiced in some courses is even more strongly 
applicable to survey work through the tutorial method. A cer- 
tain amount of ground coverage is necessary and inevitable, but 
it can nearly always be accomplished far more efficiently and 
economically in courses than in tutorial. To say this is not to 
say that tutorial is of little educational worth; it is only to 
say that it should be confined to its proper province. There, with 
skillful tutors and with students who are adapted to this method 
of instruction, it can be of immense value. Tutorial discussion, 
particularly when combined with the writing and critical analy- 
sis of essays, docs more than give coherence to a particular field 
of study; it can also help to give a greatly increased breadth of 
view and maturity of judgment. Thus, although we suggest that 
tutorial should continue to be connected with concentration, we 
believe that it can make very great contributions to general 
education, inasmuch as the results of successful tutorial are to be 
found in increased skill in analysis and expression, in the capacity 
to deal with general ideas and to make and defend value-judg- 
ments, in those intangibles which are surely of the very essence 
of a successful general education. It seems reasonable to antici- 
pate that as the number of instructors who have had experience 

General Education in Harvard College 

in the courses designed for purposes of general education in- 
creases, so will the contributions of tutorial instruction to general 
education be enlarged. 

We assume that the tutorial system will not be used by any 
department which believes that this method of instruction is not 
well adapted to its needs. It is apparent that tutorial has not 
worked nearly so satisfactorily in most of the physical sciences 
as in the humanities and the social sciences. There are inevitable 
differences in the methods of teaching chemistry and philosophy. 
No sound reason exists for requiring all departments to use the 
same educational techniques. 

It would be unrealistic to discuss tutorial entirely in terms of 
the contributions that it can make, and often has made, to educa- 
tion at Harvard College without considering also the burden that 
it imposes both upon the budget of the college and upon the 
teaching time of the faculty. Tutorial is a very expensive system 
indeed, whether judged in terms of expense or in terms of man 
power. It is to be remembered that tutorial has been added to an 
elaborate course system in which the undergraduate is offered 
an enormous range of choice in almost every department of in- 
struction. Even those who are most enthusiastic about the tu- 
torial system do not ordinarily advocate a drastic reduction of 
course offerings in order to provide additional time for tutorial 
instruction. Tutoring is, moreover, a very demanding form of 
instruction, at least if it be well done. No member of the faculty 
who offers courses for undergraduates and for graduate students, 
who is also probably involved in a certain amount of the adminis- 
trative work which seems an inevitable concomitant of university 
life in America, can lightly assume the burden of any considerable 
number of tutorial students; and the fact is that very few of the 
members of the faculty who have attained professorial rank have 
been willing to give more than a small fraction of their time to 
tutorial instruction. Only a minority, indeed, have been willing 
to make even a gesture in that direction. 

The situation with regard to tutorial varies greatly from de- 
partment to department, but it seems safe to say that those de- 
partments having the larger concentrations (and in the years im- 


General Education in a Free Society 

mediately preceding the war, most of the students who received 
tutorial instruction were concentrators in five of the thirty-odd 
fields available in Harvard College) have delegated the tutorial 
task primarily to teaching fellows, annual instructors, faculty in- 
structors to members of the staff who were not on permanent 
appointment. This means that a very heavy proportion of tutor- 
ing has been carried on by young and relatively inexperienced 
tutors. Many of these have done really first-rate educational jobs. 
But unhappily a good many of them have not stayed at Harvard 
long enough to acquire skill in this very difficult form of teach- 
ing. Some of them have left before they were familiar even with 
the requirements for concentration and distribution, while others 
would never have been successful tutors, no matter how long 
their stay. No one will dispute the proposition that we have poor 
lecturers and poor section men at I larvard, but classroom teach- 
ing is much more open to inspection than is the work of tutorial. 
The traditions of the course system sometimes impose undue 
limitations upon the work of the very ablest instructors, but they 
also serve as guides and controls for the inexperienced or the 
capricious. The very closeness of the tutorial relationship, more- 
over, adds to the unhappy plight of the student who is assigned 
a tutor whose immaturity of judgment, emotional instability, 
limited learning, or devotion to his own graduate work makes 
him unsatisfactory as either a guide, a counselor, or an instructor. 
It has occasionally been suggested that substantial economies 
could be made by substituting group tutorial for individual tu- 
torial. If we may judge by the testimony both of tutors and of 
students who have received group instruction, the group method 
of tutorial is not one which can be generally substituted for in- 
dividual instruction. Many members of the faculty who have 
had experience in tutorial seem to feel that group tutorial is 
ordinarily an unsatisfactory substitute either for individual tu- 
torial or for the classroom, that it lacks most of the merits of both 
of those methods and has relatively few of its own. Although it 
has been and can be used successfully by certain tutors and under 
particular circumstances, it cannot be used by all tutors or with 
all groups of students. We conclude that no substantial econo- 


General Education In Harvard College 

mies can be expected from group tutorial, and that it should be 
used only by experienced tutors and only under favorable con- 

There is another aspect of the personnel problem which de- 
serves more attention than it has ordinarily received. This is the 
difficulty of keeping a sufficient staff of able and experienced 
young tutors long enough for them to be valuable to I larvard, 
and yet not too long for Harvard to be responsible for interfer- 
ing seriously with their teaching careers elsewhere. We must 
continue to assume that, at least in the larger departments, most 
of the tutoring will be done by men who will stay at Harvard a 
relatively short time. This will, that is to say, be true if tutorial 
instruction be given to all students. In some departments un- 
fortunate situations have arisen out of the necessity of keeping 
an exceptionally large number of able young men at Harvard 
beyond the time at which they would normally leave for teach- 
ing positions in other institutions. 

We seem, then, to have before us the dilemma that a poor or 
inexperienced (the terms are not necessarily synonymous) tutor 
may be worse than none at all and the very real difficulty of 
keeping young men long enough so that they shall be valuable 
to their students and to I larvard, and yet not so long that their 
academic careers shall be impaired. 

In a considerable number of the letters addressed by members 
of the faculty to the Dean of the Faculty the opinion is expressed 
that tutorial should be changed from a right to which every stu- 
dent, no matter what his qualifications or his performance, is 
automatically entitled to a privilege reserved for the competent 
and the industrious. Such a view is by no means new in the dis- 
cussions of the tutorial system. In the very carefully considered 
Student Council report of 1931 appears the following significant 

The introduction of the tutorial system has unquestionably had 
a beneficial effect upon the education of nearly every student in 
the College. At the same time, the true purpose of the system has 
been attained in a surprisingly small number of cases. While statis- 
tics cannot be formed for matters so intangible, the committee does 


General Education in a Free Society 

not believe that it is excessive to say that from 50 to 75 per cent 
of the students in Harvard College, far from regarding their tutorial 
work as being the central focus of the College career, look at it as 
hardly more than a fifth course added to the schedule for three 
years. It is generally estimated that about half of the students are 
not capable of getting the highest benefits from tutorial work, al- 
though they gain some value from it. Of the remainder, even those 
who are reaping considerable benefits from tutorial instruction at 
present rarely get anything which approaches the highest practical 
ideal attainable. 

Three years later the Overseers Committee published a report 
in which a similar point of view is expressed: 

At present it costs just as much by the hour to tutor the unre- 
sponsive students as the responsive, and the drain on the tutor's 
energy is greater in the one case than in the other. Since these are 
times when every item of expense must justify itself, common sense 
would suggest that tutoring be reserved in large measure for those 
students who can really profit by it. The tutorial system would be 
more efficient and would become all the more strongly established 
if its work were concentrated in the field of its major usefulness, 
and the resultant economies in operating costs would be consider- 
able. Thus the practical and the theoretical arguments reinforce 
each other. 

It was in response to the attitude expressed in these reports, 
and in accordance with a very considerable body of faculty 
sentiment, that in 1936 a committee of the faculty proposed a 
rather half-hearted application of the principle that tutorial was 
not for all students. This recommendation provided for the 
establishment by those departments which wished to do so of 
Plan A and Plan B tutorial. Plan A tutorial has meant ordinarily 
full-time tutorial, while Plan B has varied from a substantial 
amount of tutorial instruction to nothing more than the signing 
of plans of study at certain fixed periods in the year. 

It seems to this committee that the time has come for Harvard 
College to recognize the impossibility of carrying both an ex- 
traordinarily rich system of course instruction and a tutorial 
system under which every student is given the benefit of indi- 
vidual instruction. We realize that it will not be easy to distin- 


General Education in Harvard College 

guish on any objective basis between those students who are best 
qualified for, and most deserving of, tutorial instruction and those 
for whom it has little value. Any basis of distinction will be 
imperfect. Everything considered, we believe that we should 
accept the principle that the tutorial method of instruction is one 
which is entirely defensible only when it is related to the work 
of those students who are candidates, or potential candidates, for 
honors. If we could expect to have really competent tutors for 
all students, the answer might be a different one. But all of the 
evidence, including the answers to the Radcliffe alumnae ques- 
tionnaires, seems to show that poor tutoring is worthless, and 
there seems to be no possibility of securing tutorial instruction 
for all students which will measure up to the standards of Harvard 
classroom instruction. We agree with the Overseers Committee 
of 1934 that the tutorial system would be strengthened rather 
than weakened if we recognized more clearly the range within 
which it functions best, and concentrated our resources there. 

During the last few decades the proportion of students who 
have been candidates for honors at Harvard has been very large 
indeed, ranging between 40 and 50 per cent, and more than one 
third of all candidates for degrees graduate with honors. We 
believe this to be an extremely desirable situation, and we think 
that every effort should be made to maintain, and indeed to in- 
crease, this proportion. Honors candidacy and tutorial instruc- 
tion must be considered privileges worth working for. We believe 
this is feasible if the quality of tutorial instruction is main- 
tained at a sufficiently high level. The allowance of course re- 
duction in the junior and senior years for students who wish to 
do additional tutorial work makes honors candidacy attractive to 
some students, particularly to those who weary of course rou- 
tine. Course reduction should not, however, be allowed to be- 
come an instrument of acceleration. 

We have suggested that tutorial instruction is probably of 
limited value for those students who do not intend to be can- 
didates for honors. We suggest further that it is of doubtful 
value for many sophomores, including some of those who are 
potential candidates for honors. Most students in their second 


General Education in a Free Society 

college year have not gained a sufficient mastery of any subject, 
nor have they attained a degree of intellectual maturity which 
will make tutorial instruction a sufficiently valuable experience 
to warrant the expense to the college or the time of an experi- 
enced instructor. We recognize that this is not true in all cases, 
and that for some students sophomore tutorial should be made 
available on the basis of criteria set by the several departments. 
Departments or perhaps more truly areas vary in their need 
of tutorial, and those which regard it as necessary to their proper 
ends should be free to make relatively greater use of it, if they 
adjust its expense to that of their course offerings. Other depart- 
ments or areas may prefer to experiment in seeking comparable 
ends by smaller sections and discussion groups. 

It seems desirable that the administration of the tutorial system 
be kept flexible. To that end we suggest that a final choice of 
students who are to be candidates for honors and who are to 
receive tutorial instruction in their senior year be not made until 
the beginning of that year. Only in exceptional cases should a 
man who has not attained Group IV in the rank list be allowed 
to work with a tutor in his junior year, and his continuance under 
the system of tutorial instruction should depend upon creditable 
performance in tutorial, as well as upon an improvement of his 
course standing. But tutorial should not be something to which 
even those students who attain the Dean's List (a B average or 
better) are entitled as of right, and any student who fails to take 
full advantage of his tutorial opportunity should be deprived of 
that privilege. Similarly, any student excluded from tutorial at 
the beginning of his junior year because of a poor course record, 
whose work improves materially during that year, should be al- 
lowed to become a candidate for honors and receive tutorial 
instruction during his senior year. 

Our proposals envisage a tutorial system of instruction in those 
departments retaining this method for perhaps half of the student 
body during the junior and senior years, and for a somewhat 
smaller number of students during the sophomore year. We as- 
sume that every student should have an adviser during his sopho- 
more, junior, and senior years, as well as during his freshman year. 

General Education in Harvard College 

The problem of advising is one of the most difficult of those 
with which a college administration is faced. Not the least of 
these difficulties is that several kinds of advice are required by 
students, some of which can be best given by members of the 
faculty, others by technicians. Thus the faculty member is not 
often qualified to give advice on questions relating to job place- 
ment, which are commonly dealt with by a placement office, and 
teachers generally prefer to leave psychiatric problems to a 
trained medical officer. Many questions involving the applica- 
tion of college rules and regulations are handled by the Dean of 
Harvard College and his staff. But the general advisory function 
is most effectively performed when it follows naturally and di- 
rectly out of those relations which are a part of the educational 
procedure. The tutorial system has had the advantage of provid- 
ing upperclassmen with advisers with whom they have had this 
direct and natural contact. If we limit tutorial instruction to 
about half of the men in the upper classes, it is essential that we 
replace the advisory function of the tutor for those not tutored 
by an advisory system which will retain the same qualities. 

In making plans for such a system, we should proceed upon 
the premise that all students need the opportunity for direct inti- 
mate contact with a member of the department, or, when this 
is not possible, the area, in which the student is concentrating. 
It is also important that the advisory function be closely tied in 
with the Houses. Of recent years a number of men have been 
added to the House staffs to represent fields, such as chemistry, 
in which there was no tutoring. The expectation was that such 
instructors would act as advisers of the students in their fields 
affiliated with their House. This practice has, on the whole, 
worked admirably, and it should be taken as a model upon which 
to develop a system of advising for the upperclassmen in the 
Houses who do not receive tutorial instruction. Students not 
connected with a House should, of course, be assigned an adviser 
on the staff of the department in which they concentrate. It will 
be particularly important that the advisers who deal with sopho- 
mores have contacts with them which go well beyond the func- 
tion of signing study cards and giving perfunctory advice about 


General Education in a Free Society 

the selection of courses. It should be possible for these advisers, 
at least for those who are in fields of concentration which offer 
tutorial instruction, to recommend reading to their advisees and 
to hold conferences with them (perhaps three or four times in 
the course of a year), both for the purpose of encouraging the 
students in their academic work, and also for the purpose of 
finding out which of those students warrant tutorial instruction 
during their junior and senior years. A good many students 
who, for one reason or another, have failed to do honors work 
in their freshman year have the capacity and the latent interest to 
do work of a higher standard if only they are encouraged and 
given sound advice at the time when they most need it. There 
will be other students who will not begin to take a serious interest 
in academic work until their junior year, and here, as in the 
sophomore year, the adviser can play an important part in helping 
to encourage the student and to recommend him for inclusion in 
the list of those who are to be tutored during the senior year. 

For the successful accomplishment of this goal it will be de- 
sirable not only that such advisers be on the staffs of the several 
Mouses, but also that they be men who are familiar with under- 
graduate work, including tutorial instruction and the system of 
divisional examinations, in their fields. In many instances these 
men will be tutors, who will thus serve as advisers for those stu- 
dents who do not receive tutorial instruction as well as act as 
advisers for their own tutees. In other instances they will be 
members of the faculty who are not tutors but who are interested 
in maintaining the close, human contacts with students which are 
not always possible in a college where so many of the courses are 
large and relatively impersonal unless some special device is 

The adoption of such a system should make possible the assign- 
ment of a considerably larger proportion of students in the 
Houses to advisers connected with their own Houses than has 
been true in the past. This would be the case since under the 
present tutorial system it has often been impossible to assign stu- 
dents to tutors in their own Houses because the special fields of 
the students and of the tutors did not coincide. Under the pro- 


General Education in Harvard College 

posals here advanced it would not be essential that the special 
fields of the adviser and the student coincide, although it would 
be desirable that the adviser be familiar with the requirements and 
the methods of the student's field. He might, however, be in a 
neighboring department, where circumstances did not permit the 
assignment of all students to faculty advisers in the field of their 
choice. It may be further remarked that the establishment of 
House conference courses of the kind referred to earlier in this 
chapter would also be helpful in giving to the Houses the in- 
tellectual vitality eminently desirable but not always successfully 
attained in the past. 

We suggest that in those departments which have a divisional 
examination at the end of the senior year all men, whether tu- 
tored or only advised, be required to take such examinations. 
Ground covering can, and should, be left primarily to the courses. 
A final and general review of the field of concentration under- 
taken at the end of a college career has important educational 
values for all students, and no one should be deprived of them. 
It is possible that those students who do not have tutorial instruc- 
tion will profit somewhat less than has been the case with students 
in Groups V and VI who, in the past, were tutored. But the 
evidence seems again to support the conclusion that a very large 
proportion of such students have done perfunctory tutorial work. 
The function of the adviser should include advice regarding 
divisional examinations, both as to the selection of courses and as 
to the reading of additional books or other materials. Depart- 
ments and divisions may wish to make some distinction between 
divisional examinations taken by honors and those taken by pass 
candidates. It is to be hoped that the differences will be largely 
in terms of the kind and difficulty of questions rather than in 
terms of breadth of coverage. We can and should expect every 
student to master a considerable body of learning in his field. We 
cannot expect all of them to attain the same degree of excellence. 
Tutorial instruction, and that of an improved standard, should 
be provided for those whom Jefferson called "the best geniuses," 
for those students who are concerned with quality as well as 
amount of learning, with ideas and with values, those who have 

General Education in a Free Society 

questions to which they seek answers, and who have the capacity 
and the willingness to work toward the solution of those ques- 
tions. It is for such students that the tutorial system is splen- 
didly adapted, and it is for them that it should be retained and 

Harvard as a University College 

WE have used the term, university college, once or twice so far 
to denote the particular character of a college which, strong in 
its collegiate tradition, is also influenced by a strong surrounding 
university. In the United States the college is far the older in- 
stitution. Built on British models by the early colonists and ever 
more widely transplanted and acclimatized as the country was 
opened, it remained the almost universal institution of higher 
learning until the latter half of the last century, when the univer- 
sity was in its turn created, this time from Continental models. 
The resulting fusion of undergraduate and graduate departments 
in one greater institution has since become a characteristic, in 
many ways a unique, trait of American education. No two such 
institutions are of course identical. Apart from purely local 
coloring, differences of emphasis as between the college and the 
graduate schools give each its particular tone and individuality. 
Columbia differs from Yale, Yale from Chicago, Chicago from 
Michigan. At Harvard, the age, tradition, strength, and size of 
the college have enabled it to keep a kind of equilibrium with the 
graduate schools, which since President Eliot's day have likewise 
created their own very strong traditions. It is clear that most of 
the questions so far treated in this chapter in some way go back 
to this central question of the place of the college within the 
university, and it may therefore be well to end with a few words 
on the particular form of university college which exists at 

The modern college dates from the Renaissance, when it was 

General Education in Harvard College 

created, more or less in opposition to the then long-established 
European universities, as a place where students might live to- 
gether and with their teachers for the purpose of receiving a 
rounded preparation spiritual, intellectual, physical for active 
life. It took its inspiration from the classical ideal of the complete 
man and was originally aristocratic in tone, a training place for 
the kind of universal gentleman described in Castiglione's Cour- 
tier or sketched in Shakespeare's picture of Hamlet as "the 
courtier's, scholar's, soldier's eye, tongue, sword." But in Eng- 
land, where this concept of the college alone took firm root, it 
was also shaped by the Puritan, antiaristocratic forces of the 
Reformation, which stressed not so much the rounded gentleman 
as the pastor and the religiously formed man of affairs. A passage 
from S. E. Morison's The Founding of Harvard College (pp. 56- 
57) catches amusingly the fusion of ideas which was carried from 
the old to the new Cambridge. 

One can hardly exaggerate the importance of this intrusion of 
'young gentlemen' into the English universities, for there they re- 
mained, and to Harvard they have come. Owing to the fact that 
England simultaneously received the reformation, the renaissance, 
and this notion of a gentleman's education, there was brought about 
an unwilling compromise between gentility and learning, a rubbing 
of shoulders between the poor scholar and the squire's son, that has 
made the English and American college what it is today: the 
despair of educational reformers and logical pedagogues, the aston- 
ishment of Continental scholars, a place which is neither a house 
of learning nor a house of play, but a little of both; and withal a 
microcosm of the world in which we live. To this sixteenth-cen- 
tury compromise, become a tradition, we owe that common figure 
of the English-speaking world, 'a gentleman and a scholar.' 

Such were several among the leading founders of New England, 
and of Harvard: both Winthrops and both Saltonstalls, Downing 
and Bradstreet, Bellingham, and Peter Bulkeley, of whom Cotton 
Mather wrote, 'His Education . . . was Learned, it was Genteel, 
and . . . Pious.' To Harvard they brought a new zeal for scrip- 
tural religion and the humanist tradition. From her opening day, 
Harvard has included a large proportion of young men who had 
no professional intentions. They have been complained of by their 
more serious preceptors, these three hundred years. They havf 
committed every sort of folly and extravagance. New colleges 


General Education in a Free Society 

such as Williams and Amherst have been founded in order to pro- 
vide a place where poor but pious youths could be educated for the 
ministry, uncontaminated by the 'rakehells,' 'bloods,' and 'sports' 
of Harvard and the same class of students have flocked to the 
new colleges. Even after countless examples of gentlemen who 
have become scholars and scholars who have become gentlemen by 
this illogical commingling, there are some people who would admit 
none to our colleges but serious students, and others who would set 
a standard of luxury and expense impossible for poor students. As 
long as Harvard remains true to her early tradition, rich men's sons 
and poor, serious scholars and frivolous wasters, saints and sinners, 
puritans and papists, Jews and Gentiles will meet in her Houses, 
her Yard, and her athletic fields, rubbing off each other's angulari- 
ties, and learning from friendly contact what cannot be learned 
from books. 

But one further point should be noticed. It was remarked that 
democracy, by broadening the basis of government to include 
all the people, ideally demands of all the education formerly 
reserved for a privileged class. The distinction has ceased between 
inferiors trained only for practical tasks and superiors broadly 
trained for government. The Renaissance collegiate education 
was, in effect, precisely an education of governors men rounded 
and supple enough to make decisions and sufficiently well edu- 
cated to do so with perspective and a sense of standards. It is the 
mantle of this tradition which has descended on the modern 
college even to some degree on the modern high school. Since 
the governor is now the citizen and no longer merely the gentle- 
man and the aristocrat, then this "gentleman's education" has 
become the citizen's education. The Puritan influence mentioned 
above was a step in this direction. It is an education which looks 
first of all to general responsibility and competence among an 
increasingly large group. 

By contrast the tradition of the university is a specialistic tradi- 
tion. As the college goes back to the rounded ideal of the Renais- 
sance, so the university goes back to the medieval specialism of 
the cleric and lawyer. This tradition has likewise been very 
greatly broadened in the course of time, but in the form in which 
it reached this country less than a century ago, it remained 


General Education in Harvard College 

strongly, perhaps increasingly, specialistic. Hence President 
Eliot's characteristic achievement was immensely to strengthen 
and, in some cases, to found the various graduate schools and to 
bring their enriching influence into the college, even, as was 
argued earlier, at some risk to the latter's traditional role. This 
was the origin of the university college, a place that remained 
henceforward still partly a training ground for citizens and culti- 
vated human beings but now made room also for the first steps in 
professional competence. 

The peculiar fact about Harvard is that this balance between 
the forces of the college and of the university, though sometimes 
unsteady and always subject to great opposing strains, has been 
kept. The same faculty teaches both undergraduates and gradu- 
ates, and the most eminent men have often taken part in the ele- 
mentary courses. Many juniors and seniors mingle in courses 
with graduate students. The recent creation of a seven-year pro- 
gram leading jointly to the degrees of A.B. and LL.B. has been 
an attempt to establish with the Law School the same close ties 
that have long existed with the Graduate School of Arts and 
Sciences. All this testifies to the force of the one partner, the 
university, in the union of university and college. What of the 
other partner? Its opposite force has been shown in the tutorial 
system, the Houses, and the system of divisional examinations 
and honors, so far at least as the latter have represented careful 
and individual oversight of students. It has shown itself also, and 
perhaps chiefly, in the teaching of undergraduates by scholars 
who, if undergraduate and graduate faculties had been distinct, 
would have given themselves wholly to graduates and to their 
own research and writing. An Agassiz, a James, a Ilaskins, a 
Kittredge, a Whitehead have embodied the ideal of the university 
college. The overworked dichotomy which would lead us to 
believe that the scholar and the teacher are necessarily different 
persons has been proved false by them and by others less distin- 
guished. It is true that not all scholars have been able to relate 
their scholarship to the needs of undergraduates, but many have 
done just that superbly. Such men have had the power to open 
new worlds of learning, to set standards of rigor and honesty, to 

General Education in a Free Society 

suggest approaches to the great questions of humanistic learning, 
of society, and of science for which neither textbooks nor dis- 
cussions could be more than pale substitutes. 

Yet, as we have argued from the beginning, this element of 
roundedness which is of the essence of the college has lacked a 
vehicle peculiar to itself, in the sense that specialism, the university 
element, has had its peculiar vehicle in the system of concentra- 
tion. We do not wish to indulge in black-and-white dichotomies 
of the kind just complained of. It is true that concentration has 
illustrated for many, particularly as regards method of thought, 
the very qualities which we have described as aimed at by general 
education. It is also true, as just said, that the greatest teachers 
have made of their courses something far transcending lessons in 
a special and limited subject. Yet the fact remains that the present 
system favors a specialism which only the strong teacher breaks 
through. Moreover, by the very definition of the university 
college, specialism is within limits right and desirable. What 
therefore is wanted and, we believe, offered in general educa- 
tion is a vehicle as proper to the element of the college as is 
concentration to the element of the university. We repeat that 
rigid distinctions here are misleading and even harmful. Special- 
ism is not meaningless for general education, nor general educa- 
tion for specialism. Neither is the one uniquely the vehicle of the 
college, nor the other of the university. Yet their double presence 
would in fact express and embody the double nature of the 
university college. 

Finally, a similarly loose but perhaps useful contrast can be 
applied to teaching. It has been said that teaching has naturally 
two phases: the Olympian and the earthly. In the Olympian 
phase, the teacher, actually or figuratively at some distance from 
the student, expounds the objective majesty of the subject a 
majesty which exists, so to speak, whether the student heeds or 
not, which is greater than he and greater than the teacher, some- 
thing austere and almost impersonal, a facet of the world. In the 
human phase, the teacher sits on the same level as the student, 
discussing the truth as it appears to each. The individual adjust- 
ment which each makes to the truth is then uppermost, and as the 


General Education in Harvard College 

teacher examines, he can also be examined. We would not say 
that the Olympian phase of teaching is proper to the university 
and the human phase to the college. Graduate instruction obvi- 
ously involves discussion and personal oversight. Yet it is true 
that, in so far as the college aims to develop the total person, then 
it must attach special importance to this human phase of teaching. 
The justification of all teaching to some extent, and of this kind 
especially, is in the premises of the democratic way of life: teach- 
ing is important because the human being has value in himself 
not as a potential scholar but as he actually is with his actual 
capacities and limitations. From this premise follows what was 
said earlier about the place of tutoring, advising, and small dis- 
cussion groups in the college as a whole and in connection with 
the Houses. The university college must use both methods, the 
human as well as the Olympian, to fulfill its proper purpose. 

What is this purpose? It is to give to the nation and the world 
so far as it can both trained skill and responsible judgment. If one 
tried to estimate, for example, Harvard's contribution to the war, 
what would come first? Would it be this or that instrument or 
discovery which has saved lives or helped win engagements? 
Would it be technically skilled persons in necessary posts? Would 
it be the man of broad human wisdom whose ideals stirred and 
led the nation? Would it be thousands of humbler men, each 
responsible in his separate duty? Obviously one could not choose. 
All are necessary; none could be foregone. Just so, the concern 
with the individual which is at the heart of the college and the 
advancement of learning which is at the heart of the university 
are likewise each inseparable and indispensable. 



General Education in the Community 


Distractions and Obstacles 

IF the principles set forth in Chapter II are accepted, certain out- 
comes as to postschool and out-of-school education follow. The 
purpose of this chapter is to discuss these, to note some of the 
opportunities which are open to us and the forces which could 
bar us from them, to review our resources and make what tenta- 
tive estimate we may of the state of the battle. The original title 
of this committee contained the word "objectives." That is a 
term current in educational jargon but it almost belongs today to 
military science, and, though some of the implications of the 
comparison may be regrettable, it is clearly useful. We have been 
concerned with the strategy in the first place, to a less degree 
with the tactics, and in some measure with the logistics of an 
enterprise which is rightly to be regarded as a struggle. The 
struggle is as old as man himself. It may be looked upon as man's 
effort to become in actuality more nearly what he is in idea. It 
will continue while man remains and any assurance anyone may 
feel as to ultimate victory is questionable. But our business is 
with the contemporary phase. There is little doubt that as much 
now turns on what happens out of school and after school as on 
what happens in classrooms. It is clear at least that in the measure 
in which in-school work fails in achieving its aims, the need for 
means and agencies to pursue them out of school is increased. 
It is equally clear that wide success in continuing out-of-school 
education depends upon what has been done in the years of 
compulsory study. 


General Education in the Community 

How successful the schools are is a moot point; but few, prob- 
ably, will deny that school achievement commonly falls far short 
of what is required by a just conception of the dignity of man. 
The rejections by the armed services on educational grounds are 
one index. The estimate that the loss will amount to nearly a 
million able-bodied men will probably prove too low. By the 
1940 census there were over ten million illiterates in the United 
States and approximately two million children between the ages 
of six and fifteen not attending school. The National Education 
Association finds that nearly twenty million of our voting popu- 
lation had less than sixth-grade education. These are uncom- 
fortable figures. No one will be content to allow so large a pro- 
portion of the community to remain so ill equipped either as 
human beings or as citizens of a democracy. Less precise and 
ponderable are the judgments of publishers, journalists, adver- 
tisers, radio-program directors, and motion-picture producers 
as to the capacities and interest of their publics. And the experi- 
ence of the opinion-poll experts does not run counter to the 
general trend of these findings. In view of recent advances in 
physical standards of living and the resultant opportunities, the 
lag in education seems the more shocking. These very oppor- 
tunities indeed to "go places" or turn on the juke box rather 
than to talk things over or think things out may tend to keep 
wisdom back. A schooling better aware of its aims may come to 
see in contemporary distractions some of its major opponents. 

These are evidently matters of valuation and can hardly be 
proved. It is less debatable that the schools leave much undone 
and that means for supplementing and continuing their work out 
of school are still extremely deficient. But that is the negative 
way of putting a point which needs positive statement more. The 
positive statement takes us back to the nature of man and to the 
four characteristics described in Chapter II as aims so important 
as to prescribe how general education should be carried out and 
which abilities should be sought above all others in every part of 
it. These abilities, it will be recalled, were to think effectively, to 
communicate thought, to discern relevance, and to discriminate 
among values. To call them characteristics or abilities does not 

General Education in a Free Society 

perhaps suggest clearly enough that these are not powers adven- 
titious to man but u his glassy essence.'* They are what makes him 
man, and his prime business, to which all else is means only, is 
with their growth in himself and in others. As stated, they may 
look like means themselves to some further end. But looked at 
more closely, in their integration, they are his being and his end. 
He is his endeavor to grow in them. As this endeavor flags or is 
frustrated the less human he becomes. His education accordingly, 
in the deepest sense, is the development of these powers toward 
their and his perfection. 

Any attempted description of these constitutive human powers 
will, perhaps necessarily, be incomplete and misleading. Descrip- 
tions here are a means of recollecting, of reminding ourselves of 
what we know. There are many such. It is interesting to com- 
pare three descriptions given in very different epochs and in the 
terms of very different traditions. In Mencius' famous parable: 

The trees of Niu hill were once beautiful. Being in the suburbs of 
a great city, however, they were hewn down with axes and bills. 
Could they retain their beauty? Still, through the growth from the 
vegetative life day and night, and the nourishing influence of the 
rain and the dew, they were not without buds and sprouts spring- 
ing out. But then came the cattle and the goats, and browsed upon 
them. Thence came the bare and stripped appearance of the hill. 
People seeing this think it was never finely wooded. But is this the 
nature of the hill? 

Even so of what properly belongs to man. Is what is left of any 
man's mind ever without love and justice, without courtesy and 
knowledge of right and wrong? The way in which man loses his 
proper goodness of mind is like the way in which the trees were 
denuded by hatchets. Hewn down day after day, can it retain its 
excellence? But there is some growth of its life night and day, and 
in the calm air of the morning, just between night and day, the 
mind feels in a degree these desires and aversions which are proper 
to humanity; but then it is fettered and destroyed by what a man 
does during the day. This happens again and again, the night breath 
is not enough to preserve the proper goodness, and he becomes not 
far different from the birds and beasts. When people see this, they 
think his mind never had these endowments. But is this man's pro- 


General Education in the Community 

If it gets its nourishment, there is nothing which will not grow. If it 
loses its nourishment, there is nothing which will not perish. 

A. few years before this Plato was writing: 

As it is, we have given a true account of the soul in its present ap- 
pearance. But we have looked at it in a state like that of the sea- 
god Glaucus: whose original nature can no longer be readily 
discerned by the eye, because the members of his body have been 
broken off or crushed and in every way marred by the waves, and 
incrustations have grown over him of seaweed and shells and 
stones, so that he is more like any wild beast than his natural self. 
The soul which we behold has been brought to a similar state by a 
thousand evils. 

Modern philosophy puts the same point this way: 

Now, let us go quite a way from physics and consider an oak tree. 
There is evidence, we saw, for the norm of an oak tree. A botanist 
or horticulturist could tell us in great detail what is the normal 
growth and appearance of any particular variety of oak. Give the 
oak suitable soil, water, sun, fertilization, and freedom from other 
vegetation, from insects, and the like, and the normal oak will be 
exemplified. The law of the oak will exhibit itself in concrete exist- 
ence just as the law of gravitating mass exhibited itself in the 
dropped ball. But plant the oak in poor soil or on a windswept hill, 
or in a thick forest, and it will be distorted from its normal growth 
just as the planet was from the normal gravitational path. This dis- 
tortion will be a resultant of the forces of other laws in which the 
characters of the oak participate in conjunction with the normal 
law of growth of the oak. 

The same distortions occur for the same reasons in the norms of 
animals, of men, and of human societies. (Stephen C Pepper, 
World Hypotheses, p. 179.) 

Man, these agree, has his norm, and the account of education 
we are giving here agrees too, without, however, professing to 
give an adequate statement of the norm. The apprehension of 
the norm by approximation to it is education itself, which 
is thus its own aim. Books about education are not competitors. 

But we can discuss the means to be used and the dangers to be 
met, and in so doing we must ignore neither the influences of the 
schools upon the community nor its influences upon their prod- 


General Education in a Free Society 

ucts. Mencius' hatchetman and his goats hew and browse alike 
within and without the schools. It is what happens after the 
schooling period and what should and should not happen which 
concern us now. If we are tempted to blame the schools for the 
bare and stripped appearance of too many ex-students in later 
life, we should not forget what the world is endlessly doing to 
them. And here what happens in the immediate postschool years 
has especial importance. 

Adults as Learners 

POSTSCHOOL education has both perennial and emergency 
aspects. Within the long-term program place has to be found for 
measures to meet postwar conditions as these affect the youth 
who has just left school. Even though employment be high fol- 
lowing the war, it seems likely that there will be an unemployed 
group of younger people of considerable size. In the depression 
years, as was said earlier, the out-of-school and unemployed 
group amounted to about a third of the age range from sixteen 
to twenty-four. The proportion of those unemployed was larg- 
est, of course, in the lower age ranges from sixteen to nineteen 
the forming years in which those who have got least from their 
schooling can often make a new start and in which even those 
who got most are in the greatest danger of losing it. As we also 
saw, young people, even in prosperous times, may be both un- 
employed and out of school. In many cases the economic re- 
sources of the family are not sufficient to permit attendance even 
at a public high school. In perhaps as many cases the paucity of 
offerings at the available high school does not allow the student 
to take the particular course he needs or desires. On the employ- 
ment side there is a lack of opportunity in many parts of the 
country. This lack of opportunity is most marked in those very 
sections where the proportion of the young to adults is highest, 
the very sections where opportunity is most needed. Labor laws 


General Education in the Community 

vary with the states, but in many instances they have the effect of 
prohibiting young people from engaging in a regular job around 
the time when they withdraw from school. Further, some in- 
dustries and some unions have set up their own stringent regula- 
tions to keep youthful competition out of the labor market. 

However this may be, it is unwholesome at this stage for boys 
and girls both to be away from educational influences and with- 
out the discipline of some kind of job. It is wasteful. It exposes 
the human sapling to countless evils just when it is at its most 
vulnerable stage, the stage too at which help for its sprouts can 
most readily be given. To deal with this situation the federal 
government set up two major agencies in the past decade, the 
Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Youth Administra- 
tion. While both agencies are now out of existence, their experi- 
ence may be useful for future planning. 

During its existence the C.C.C. employed over 2,500,000 young 
men and unemployed war veterans. The administration of this 
agency was the responsibility of the War Department. Its work 
consisted chiefly of camp operation, reforestation, and soil con- 
servation. Most of those enrolled were seventeen, eighteen, and 
nineteen years of age. The cost was approximately $1200 per 
year per person. The values gained by the individuals and the 
community do not lend themselves to computation. In terms of 
contribution to the war effort alone we might well put our esti- 
mate high. On an over-all view they will be far higher. An edu- 
cational program was provided, but this was both less imagina- 
tively conceived and less successful than the other aspects of the 
Corps. The N.Y.A. program may be divided into two chief 
components. In one phase it provided part-time employment near 
home for 1,750,000 out-of-school young people, and in the other 
it administered a work program for approximately 1,800,000 stu- 
dents in schools and colleges. There was little criticism of the 
N.Y.A. student aid but considerable criticism of the effectiveness 
of the out-of-school program, in some cases because it set up 
educational facilities similar to those in the existing school systems 
but less well operated. In other cases the criticism was based on 
"boondoggling" of the W.P.A. variety on a junior level. 


General Education in a Free Society 

Since C.C.C. and N.Y.A. drew from the same group of young 
people, any reconstruction of their program should be integrated. 
The Educational Policies Commission has recommended that to 
avoid duplication the future administration of the out-of-school 
program be coordinated with the public-school system and be 
under its direction. Further, it is desirable that in any reconstruc- 
tion of these agencies more provision be made for what is fre- 
quently called citizenship education. How this may best be done 
with the out-of-school group still calls for much experimentation, 
in which self-government within constructive projects may have 
an important place. As was said in Chapter III, the great task of 
general education is to adapt itself to different abilities and out- 
looks, yet remain in goal the same for all. 

In addition to the N.Y.A. and C.C.C. , there was a tendency in 
some cities in the thirties to establish public-school centers for 
older youth which performed counseling and placement service 
in addition to providing education in civic affairs and training 
for vocational skills. Some of the techniques of these schools, 
such as the Opportunity School at Denver, might well be emu- 
lated in other sections of the country. European and English 
experience also provides useful guidance. For example, the Folk 
Schools in Denmark and the village colleges in England proposed 
in the R. A. Butler report show further ways of continuing gen- 
eral education for those who leave regular school early. But 
we do not need to look abroad to see what community colleges 
may do. The junior colleges in California, for example, are now 
serving both the out-of-school and adult population to a degree 
unexpected even by their proponents. Of 166,000 students en- 
rolled in these institutions in 1943, three fourths were part-time 
and adult. Where the junior college has actually become the 
"local academy of learning," it may serve admirably the purposes 
we have described. 

Promising, also, are the various types of cooperative work- 
school programs which have developed in various parts of the 
United States. Where these work-school plans include a gener- 
ous time allowance for materials dealing with social understand- 
ing and cultural heritage, they are particularly valuable. It is of 


General Education in the Community 

considerable interest that in these school-industry arrangements, 
industry, quite as much as the schools, has evinced a desire for an 
admixture of general education in the training for vocational 
skills. The same is true of the recommendations which labor is 

A special problem within a special problem concerns postwar 
provision for illiterates. Between June i, 1942, and May 31, 1944, 
some two hundred thousand "functional illiterates" were inducted 
into the armed forces. Considerable numbers of these then went 
to school, often with results which put previous efforts to teach 
them to shame. The Navy Special Recruit Training Program has 
reported most encouraging experience. The older men, while 
unable to learn as rapidly perhaps as their younger mates, showed 
a stronger drive to learn the fundamental skills. They had not 
shown anything of this sort before. What had been holding 
them back? 

The answer is, low educational standards within their com- 
munities. A community which regards illiterates as normal, or 
tacitly exempts them from higher standards as incapable of any- 
thing better, takes from them the one thing which might help. In 
the Training Centers all this is changed. The trainee has been 
well shaken up in a wide variety of broadening situations; he joins 
a group as undereducated as himself; scornful young persons are 
no longer in sight; and, above all, learning to read and write be- 
come first steps to needs clearly seen. Add to all this intelligent 
instruction, which grades his task for him, and the outcome can 
be surprising. Illiteracy is largely a consequence of bad tradition. 
These programs offer a remarkable opportunity to crush illit- 
eracy at its source in such men's families if demobilization does 
not discontinue them without providing means to carry on the 
work. It is the responsibility of the schools to see that what has 
been learned about illiteracy in the war-training effort is not 
overlooked in peacetime. 

When we turn from the education of out-of-school youth to 
the great multiplicity of influences which go to make up what 
we call adult education, concrete suggestions are harder to make. 
Certain it is, however, that as the proportion of adults to youth 


General Education in a Free Society 

steadily increases, adult education becomes a more important key 
to the health of the body politic. Adults, not young people, set 
the tone of a community. Almost inevitably, school people, and 
also the general public, overestimate the importance of the in- 
fluence of schools and colleges in forming the individual's char- 
acter, beliefs, and habits of thought. The community outside the 
schools has a weight and influence the schools cannot possibly 
have. If life in the community fails to illustrate the teaching of 
the schools, the individual is more apt to conform to the com- 
munity mores than he is to hold fast to the teaching of his school 
or college. And yet the salvation of the community depends upon 
those individuals whose education gives them the moral and in- 
tellectual strength to stand out when necessary against the ma- 
jority. It may be added that such are precisely the men and 
women for whom an adequate system of adult education should 
find work to do as teachers. 

The types of adult education may be loosely divided into two 
chief forms: school and college sponsored and community spon- 
sored. The former consists of the myriad of courses given under 
school auspices, sometimes for credit, sometimes not. In these 
programs every attempt should be made to keep the break in 
learning between school and adult life as brief as possible. Obvi- 
ously, there is an advantage for the individual and the school if 
adult work is begun as soon as possible after regular education 
has been discontinued. On the other hand, adult and in-school 
work are in many respects very different. The transition calls 
for drastic changes of pattern to accord with the change of 

In many instances, nonetheless, the school itself should be the 
civic center for adult education (although the public library may 
serve the same purpose if the school is poorly located). New 
school buildings should be designed with more comfortable 
lounge rooms where adults may smoke, relax, and hold discus- 
sions. Old buildings should be altered as much as possible to meet 
the same need. The economic waste which is represented by the 
closing of an expensive plant like a school building in the middle 
of the afternoon, in the evenings, and during most of the summer, 


General Education in the Community 

should not be permitted whenever and wherever there are adults 
who wish to use the building for educational purposes. 

As a civic center, moreover, the school can and should serve as 
meeting ground and channel for all the other community agencies 
of public welfare. The museums, the parks, the town libraries, 
the cultural and instructional programs of radio, movie, and, in 
due course, television, the many existing social agencies, the men's 
and women's clubs, all lose many of their opportunities for serv- 
ice through lack of effective means of bringing to general notice 
what they have to offer. Announcements, programs, and syl- 
labuses, however widely displayed, do not do what is needed. 
They may catch the eye, but they rarely catch or hold, much less 
create, enough interest to bring in any but the hardened and 
habitual lecture-goer. The great mass of those more in need of 
the awakening and diversification and development of their 
curiosities are untouched. Humble people, especially, are often 
barred off, by their very virtue, from chances which should be 
especially theirs. They need skillful encouragement of a sort 
which experienced teachers of adults know best how to give. 
And though we should not underrate the tact and power of 
persuasion which advertising at its highest can exert, nor neglect 
its great possible services for fear of the obvious dangers, it is 
probably true that only personal contacts can penetrate the in- 
sulations of distrust, shyness, and self-depreciation which with 
so many keep educational velleities from passing into action. It 
needs no intense effort of imagination to realize the reluctance, 
the hesitation, the fear of "giving oneself away," of finding one- 
self out of one's depth, with which most self-critical adults con- 
sider the taking up of a new enterprise in learning. These are 
feelings shared by modest minds at all levels. They are greatly 
reinforced wherever there is any record of ill success or of the 
discovery that what was sought turned out to be very unlike 
anything hoped for or expected. And it is these minds, rather 
than the brash dreadnoughts of the classroom, which can in the 
end learn most with profit to others as well as themselves. 

These reminders seemed desirable if the fundamental diffi- 
culties of adult education were to be faced. Apart from a happy 

General Education in a Free Society 

few, who are not in our picture, most adults have considerable 
experience to justify them in shrinking from the strain of attack- 
ing any subject which is not immediately intelligible to them. 
Recognizing this, much adult education has chosen, as the path 
of wisdom, to scale down the demands made upon the students 
to points at which it may be doubted what, if any, the remaining 
educational value may be. "The main thing, at first, is to get them 
to come," might represent the justification of not a few courses. 
It is a sound justification if the students continue to come and if 
what follows later does give them some solid gain from coming. 
When it does not, the disappointment adds to the handicaps of 
future efforts. 

Such reflections will be familiar to all who have had to do with 
adult education programs. They lead not to pessimism but to the 
conviction that adult education, more even than school educa- 
tion, needs the most considerate planning human beings are 
capable of. Its delicacy reflects the sound instinct, as well as the 
acquired inertia, of the adult student. In the school, moreover, 
we have better chances of retrieving our mistakes. But planning 
must assume counseling. The best programs will miss their effect 
if the right students are not somehow guided to the right courses 
or study groups, and prepared by discerning advice for what they 
may rightly expect. And here great difficulties appear. Counsel- 
ing, even in the best school systems, is still something of a hit-or- 
miss affair in spite of all the tests and other school aids available. 
In adult education, counseling is vastly more difficult, calls for 
greater tact and discernment and is, as yet, little more than an 
educator's dream as indeed an adequate provision for adult 
education itself is. 

Nonetheless, once the need for an adequate provision, its pos- 
sibilities and the general gains it would bring are clearly seen 
also the trends which are making it every year more necessary 
it is hard to doubt that immense developments will be forth- 
coming. Among these trends two may be mentioned. Medicine 
has altered the normal expectation of life. As the proportion of 
older to younger persons changes, continuing adult education 
becomes more and more necessary to keep a society from spiritual 


General Education in the Community 

senescence. Secondly, the machine age is but beginning. Leisure, 
the name the future will have to give to unemployment, is open- 
ing out before mankind as widely as the Pacific Ocean spread 
before Cortez. It is no wild surmise that a chief adjustment we 
will have to make soon is the replacement of needful toil by other 
occupations. We are making it already or failing to make it with 
every reduction in hours of labor. And the dangers of idleness, 
we know today, are very far from being merely proverbial. 
We have seen how a Hitler can turn a people from unem- 
ployment to war. We have not yet seen as clearly how edu- 
cation can be made not merely a preventive but, in William 
James' phrase, the moral equivalent of war. To use a previous 
figure of speech this means a Jacksonian raising of the many by 

The unparalleled growth we almost said eruption in our 
school system was the point with which this report began. A 
parallel growth or eruption to be expected in postschool invita- 
tions and aids to further learning seems to be what its conclusions 
indicate. In the measure in which the schools succeed this devel- 
opment becomes the more likely. General education perpetuates 
itself, if only by seeking endlessly to discover what it itself is. 
In Chapter I we compared the present diversity of offerings in 
the high school to a clouded mirror reflecting dimly the diversity 
of our society itself. One great function of adult education is to 
provide a still more comprehensive reflection, but cleared and 
ref ocused by our utmost endeavor to the vision of those who have 
passed out of tutelage, to become in the measure of their aware- 
ness guardians of the republic. 

We have considered some of the psychological barriers to the 
growth of such a program. They pointed to the need for in- 
formation, discriminating advice, and helpful introduction to the 
available offerings such as only an extensive guidance system 
could provide. The cost, the shortage of experienced and skilled 
advisers, and the administrative problems may look formidable, 
but so were, and still are, the parallel difficulties of the high school. 
The educational luxuries of one age have a way of becoming 
evident necessities to the next, and the federal government, states, 


General Education in a Free Society 

and localities can afford to sponsor programs so much in the 
common interest. 

It will not be found that adults are solely or mainly interested 
in educational services which benefit them vocationally. For 
example, "less than 8% of the activities of the well-known 
Shorewood Opportunity School, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are 
vocational," * though as small a percentage as this is unusual. 
Vocational instruction stands on a special footing. Success in it 
dispenses in a large measure with the need for continuation. It 
can come to an end, its purpose can be fulfilled. But general 
education, as we have conceived it, is endless, since it serves those 
of man's needs which are inexhaustible. It is true that if the 
schools could do for their students all that we could wish, their 
graduates would have been readied to conduct their own educa- 
tion throughout the rest of their lives for themselves. This report 
thus far may have seemed to conceive of education as solely a 
relation of student to teacher. Yet education is primarily self- 
teaching. The classroom is to show the student how to instruct 
himself and to save him time in this attempt. Its aim is to aid him 
toward enterprising independence, toward free curiosity, and 
toward persistence in self-learning. But no realist will question 
that, as things are, relatively few adults left to their own devices 
will go far. The day's work, its relaxations, its most commonly 
proffered amusements prevent progress. Without tempting and 
repeated invitations to start new or refresh old interests, and 
well-ordered food and care for them, not much growth is to be 

The day's work, of course, may itself be highly educative. 
Some sorts of work are. A more widely spread concern for 
education would demand that as many sorts of work as possible 
be made so, if need be at some cost in productivity. Some cor- 
porations have been wise enough to see this. But within the terms 
of our reference we have to consider, rather, those forms of 
organized opportunities for enhancement and inquiry which go 
by the names of cultivation and study. 

Both names may give us pause. "Cultivation" may suggest 

1 According to the Educational Yearbook for 1940, p. 358. 


General Education in the Community 

artificialities and acquisitions rather than the maturing of the 
whole man. "Study'' carries connotations which are somewhat 
narrowly scholastic. The adult and the out-of-school youth 
needs and this touches the heart of the problem to escape 
from the classroom atmosphere. And he needs guides who have 
escaped from it too. Coleridge rightly said that teachers have 
"a mental odour." It is the mark their high profession puts on 
them. In place of the formal teacher the adult needs the person 
who combines wisdom and practical experience. But he must be 
able to teach nonetheless. He must know what should come be- 
fore what and for whom, and be able to control a discussion with 
this in view. He must be able to explain, to encourage, to pro- 
voke, and to disturb. He must, in fact, have all the gifts of the 
teacher and exert them without the advantages of the teacher's 
position and powers of compulsion. Above all he must be able 
to meet others on that most obvious, elusive, intangible plane, 
their common nature as human beings. And here is the hindrance. 
The bottleneck of adult education programs is a shortage of such 
skillful human experts. 

It is no small part of the argument for general education, as we 
have conceived it, that those in whom it has been well furthered 
in school and college are more likely than specialists to be good 
guides for adults. They are more likely to have kept the common 
touch and to remember what is being attempted. They are more 
likely, also, to find in adult education, which has no glittering 
prizes to offer and calls for all the proverbial patience of the saint, 
a satisfying life and even something of the reward of a ministry. 

As to the give-and-take of discussion, it may well be that help 
here is to be found in the techniques of the progressive schools. 
Ways of conducting study there developed may prove to have 
their best application with adult groups. Be that as it may, it is 
certain that the successful instructor of adults needs both excep- 
tional resourcefulness and all the help he can get. The proportion 
of adults who drop out of the classes they have been enterprising 
enough to enroll for is eloquent testimony on this. 

Here comes up the question of texts and textbooks. There are 
very few expositions of any subject which are at all well suited 


General Education in a Free Society 

to the adult beginner. They either assume too much, leave him 
page by page at a loss, and invite him to acquiesce dishonestly in 
what is not understood; or they attempt to drag him through a 
systematic treatment which his incentives are far too weak to 
sustain. In a heightened degree this is a situation all too familiar 
in the schools. As we had occasion to remark in that connection, 
one of the great challenges to scholarship and technique in edu- 
cation is the provision of more suitable texts and textbooks. It 
arises conspicuously with adult students for whom the original 
texts of the great works of our tradition have special value. These 
are the people who have learned through life. More information 
is not their goal. They want human understanding and insight 
at its highest. 

The systematic study of design in exposition is one of the most 
strangely neglected fields of educational inquiry. Many subjects 
mathematics and languages exemplify them preeminently 
have an order of presentation which, when it is worked out, is 
easier, less confusing, less subject to mutual interference between 
its steps, than any other. Yet, except in arithmetic, the search for 
these optimum orders has received singularly little systematic 
attention. Tradition, fashion, and hunches still take the place of 
radical research into the principles of comprehension. Until texts 
which have full regard and respect for the learner's mind are 
forthcoming, much educational effort of adults and children alike 
will continue to be needlessly frustrated. And this frustration is 
the more serious because whatever the developments, they will 
never replace the deeper meanings of the texts. 

New Media of Education 

MORE important still, the needed boost to conventional texts 
may come through an extension and supplementing of them by 
films and television. In both there is much experimenting and pos- 
tulate searching in progress. For their more sustained enterprises 


General Education in the Community 

language teaching and continuous courses of study films and 
television alike require printed matter designed to have a live 
relation to the sound-motion presentation. The challenge to the 
text is given when the screen ceases to be a mere illustration or 
adornment to the language and becomes the equal or superior 
medium of communication. 

Something of a revolution is indeed taking place through these 
new means of bringing the world itself, and clarified versions of 
it, to us. Traditionally language deputizes for what has to be 
absent. It tells us what we might see or hear. But too often it 
gets in the way of, or replaces, all that could give it a meaning. 
"Through the words I have mastered, I have come to appreciate 
the beauty of the great outdoors," said a favorite "Pupils' Creed" 
written for eighth graders. Today there is a better chance of 
turning the poor pupil right side out again. Now that the things 
and events themselves can be brought to us, the role of language 
is reversed. Instead of words having to explain or represent 
things, it is rather things, and actual processes taking place before 
us, which explain words or call them in question. In the making 
of a good instructional or documentary film the duties of lan- 
guage are searchingly looked into and the needless obscurities of 
traditional texts are exposed. A healthy criticism is started and 
language, gaining a rival in its new partner, has now new stand- 
ards of lucidity to live up to. 

The chief success of sound-motion teaching hitherto has prob- 
ably been in vocational rather than in general subjects. It is easier 
to judge success in a riveter's training than in morale building, for 
example. "Estimates of time saved in training technicians for war 
industry and in the training of military personnel vary from 25 to 
75 per cent," said the Commission on Motion Pictures in Educa- 
tion of the American Council on Education. Enough has been 
done in all fields, however, to show that the high hopes early 
expressed for those aids were not, after all, excessive. There is 
good evidence that they can greatly increase both clarity and 
interest of presentation in many subjects. Furthermore, long 
retention of content and of meaning is improved, sometimes in a 
measure great enough to be decisive. Students cease to feel that 


General Education in a Free Society 

they are being "slidden back by a perpetual back-sliding' 1 on their 
steep path to understanding. There is reason to expect especial 
advantage from these aids in the attack on illiteracy. 

Films to teach and support early steps in reading are near the 
bottom of the ladder. It would be rash to say how far up the 
movie can go. Certainly the parts it can play with good effect 
are many. Films serve particularly well as awakeners of interest. 
They can present a theme, biographic, historic, or moral, with a 
massiveness of impact which for a while would make the impulse 
to continue by nonconventional methods all but irresistible, were 
these methods appropriately related. That is almost never the 
case. The exceptions are movies which profess to be well-known 
books "in film form," and too often in these so much violence 
has been done to the original that reading "the book of the film" 
is commonly disconcerting. As a rule the values which gave the 
book its permanent interest are replaced by more instant and 
transitory lures. There is nothing in the nature of the medium, 
however, to cause this. The fault is with the director's defective 
ideas of his function. 

On the documentary rather than the theatrical side things are 
different, and numbers of excellent pictures have been made, 
many of them on "human geography" in the widest sense occu- 
pations, regions, social problems, cooperative cultures. Strangely 
little in comparison has been done in a documentary fashion with 
history. Theatrical pictures exploiting famous personages are of 
course frequent, but the use of the tremendous resources of the 
medium to put, say, Renaissance Europe on the screen with the 
aid of Erasmus' Colloquies, for example, could be an immense 
educational eye opener. Charles Reade's The Cloister and the 
Hearth could supply a framework upon which a thousand details 
of custom and craftsmanship, living conditions and social struc- 
ture could be mounted. A thread of adventure would not be 
lacking. A rich contemporary background of reading, music, 
and art would not be hard to provide. Numberless opportunities 
in fact await producers aware of educational aims and with 
enough imagination to pursue them. The movie has proved itself 
to possess the power, if there is the wisdom to use it. 


General Education in the Community 

Somewhat less encouragement can be drawn from the probable 
future of radio in education. It has the defects of blindness, 
though great skill is constantly displayed in overcoming or di- 
minishing them. From the nature of the medium little is known, 
or can be expected to be known, as to its effects. We are in a 
realm of surmises here where extremely powerful interests wit- 
tingly and unwittingly influence us. The obvious utilities of 
radio in distributing news and speeches, in arousing interest in 
current questions, and as a channel for music, its powers in light 
entertainment and as distraction and occasionally in drama all 
these familiar things do not show how deep radio impressions 
commonly go. The common listener's habit of "leaving it on" 
while ordinary conversation continues (and sometimes even seri- 
ous study needing much concentration) must raise doubts on the 
point. The long-term effect of this background upon the quality 
of the living it accompanies is a matter on which objective evi- 
dence is unfortunately lacking. 

As a medium for discussion, radio suffers from the superior 
attractiveness of a dogfight to an ordered exchange of views. In 
general, the program director is incessantly in the position of 
Horace's poet wishing "either to instruct or to amuse or to 
combine the two." The combination is the point of difficulty. 
Without great care his offering does neither. Instruction pure 
wins him credit, but amusement gets him listeners. In the setting 
in which most listen, with rival programs of all sorts waiting on 
the turn of the dial, there is a heavy drag against any wide raising 
of the educational level. Against this, however, successes with 
music must be set. But music is the art of the ear. There are no 
comparable successes with arts of joint senses drama for ex- 
ample. Without the actor's visual presence, Sophocles and Shake- 
speare do not go down. Any tear jerker concocted for the ear 
alone beats the "holy poets' pages" every time. 

Be this as it may, much uncertainty inevitably exists as to what 
is listened to, and how, by whom. Methodical inquiry into such 
things is as yet but beginning. The work of the rapidly develop- 
ing agencies for listener research shows the opportunity, the 
promise, and the difficulty. Meanwhile a shower of technical 


General Education in a Free Society 

innovations in communication descends upon us, each enough by 
itself to originate an epoch. And the psychologic assumptions, 
the philosophic coordinates upon and by which to test and place 
them remain "with one foot in the unconscious and the other in 
the Middle Ages." We are at a turning point indeed in human 
affairs though we can do no more than guess what vectors may 
be needed to describe our spin. 

General education is the sole means by which communities can 
protect themselves from the ill effects of overrapid change. For 
its concern is with what is the same throughout all changes and 
with the very process of change itself and the techniques of tak- 
ing account of it. Political trends and upheavals naturally engage 
our attention to the neglect perhaps of wider and deeper changes. 
The coming of steam was a larger event in human history than 
all but the greatest changes in government, larger not as a ma- 
terial event only but in the spiritual transformations it is still in- 
ducing. With it man began to inhabit his planet as a planet. 
Increased physical mobility has naturally increased the scale of 
wars, which is a reminder that danger is inseparable from power. 
The press, radio, photography, television our progressive dis- 
embodiment - and indeed all increased means of mass communi- 
cation have their dangers too. Propaganda, which is their political 
aspect, has attracted perhaps more than its share of critical atten- 
tion. Advertisement has received some share, but chiefly in its 
quality of a potential threat to the consumer's judgment. More 
dangerous, because more general and because it threatens the 
spirit rather than the pocket, is the degradation which language 
undergoes when the greatest words are most often met in 
servitude to mean or trivial purposes. "In a world of strife, 
there is peace in beer." That slogan was no invention of a 
satirist. It adorned many a newspaper in the days before Pearl 
Harbor and is but one example, less harmful through its very 
fatuousness, of the modes of attack to which mass communi- 
cations expose standards in all fields. Against them we can 
only oppose general education at all levels. With such possibili- 
ties in mind we do well to remember Hector's words in Troilus 
and Cresslda: 


General Education in the Community 

The wound of peace is surety, 
Surety secure. 

Or, as Poor Richard had it, "He that is secure is not safe." 

Such dangers, however, are a spur to a widened and livelier 
sense of responsibility, individual and collective. Enlargement of 
the common concern is indeed the distinctive character of our 
age. Not very long ago the mass of mankind could and did leave 
peacemaking, for example, to statesmen. Today most people feel 
some of its weight on their shoulders. Even one generation back, 
how other people lived was not their business; but all men are 
neighbors now. Among and beyond all the local and personal 
motives which drive men to pursue education, this budding col- 
lective responsibility year by year grows in power. And as it 
grows it profoundly influences some immediate motives. The 
desire to get on in the world or to advance the status of the work- 
ers, the two chief drives which have animated out-of-school edu- 
cation hitherto, are being transformed by it into wider interests 
far more favorable both to growth in democracy and to the final 
causes for which society itself is only a means. "War is the great 
educator," as enemy propagandists have said, though hardly with 
this in mind. It has shown us that in technical instruction we have 
been sadly unambitious and unenterprising. It has shown us 
equally that in general education the strongest incentive comes 
from the whole man's awareness of his share in the common fate, 
of his part in the joint undertaking,